Author / Broadcaster Ken Reid explores NHL one-game wonders in new book One Night Only

Ken Reid explores NHL one-game wonders in new book One Night Only
Ken Reid explores NHL one-game wonders in new book One Night Only

It was fleeting, like trying to grasp sand in one’s hand, they blinked and it was gone.

Not even enough time to say they had a cup of coffee in the Show, at best, it was just a quick sip.

For some it was a horrible break, or poor decision making that derailed a promising career, for others it was serendipity which allowed for them to have a shot, however briefly, playing at hockey’s highest level.

In One Night Only, author and broadcaster Ken Reid tells the stories of 40 men who skated onto the ice for just a single NHL game, from Bob Ring to Don Cherry

Reid took the time to speak with Yahoo Canada Sports about his new book which will be officially released on Oct. 16, but is available in stores and online.

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Eh Game: In the forward of One Night Only, you write that this book idea came to you when thinking about your former hockey school coach Trevor Fahey. Did you know he had played just one game when you started researching him, how did things spiral from there?

Ken Reid:  I knew that he had a limited NHL career and I was pretty positive he played one game, so I checked him out and yeah, he had played one game.  Then I was thinking, I wonder what his back story is.  I checked him out, he played pro and then went and played Canadian university hockey.  I thought, “Well that’s different”, playing in the NHL and then going to play university hockey back in the 60’s and 70’s.

I wondered how many others guys played one game and there is a list on the internet, I think it might have been hockeydb.com, of about 300 guys.

I’d always had a dream like most other kids that I would  give anything to play one game and then I kind of thought, “Is it really worth it?” - giving anything or everything to play just one game, I should ask the guys that did it - Boom!, book idea and off we go.

I’m in wardrobe one day (at Rogers Sportsnet) and (fellow broadcaster) Jeff Marek says, “What’s your next book idea?” and I tell him and he says, “I want to write a book about guys that played only one game.”  I said, “Let’s write a book.”

So Jeff and I were supposed to do it together but he’s got the podcast, he’s hosting NHL, he’s way too busy.

I’m just a nighttime anchor so I have lots of free time.  Jeff was kind enough to write the forward so here we are.

EG:  How long did it take?

KR:  It probably took two years to write the book.

EG:  In terms of trust, was it a challenge when contacting some of these guys out of the blue who were no longer in the hockey world.  Did you have to convince them that you weren’t trying to turn them into some sort of novelty?

KR:  Trust is what it is.  I just got off the phone the other day with a guy named Minnie Menard who is in the book.  He initially thought it was a prank when I called, Minnie is about 82 or 83 years old, he was like, “Is this my brother?” When we were done it was one of the most flattering conversations I’ve ever had. He said, “Hey, you nailed it, you made an old man’s day, you told the story the way I told it to you.”

That’s important to me because trust is really what it’s all about between an interviewer and an interviewee.

One guy did hang up on me, he was in Johnstown PA., I think he may have thought I was a telemarketer, seriously, because when you call you have to do your spiel, “Hey, it’s Ken Reid Calling, I’ve got this book idea…” and they don’t know who I am.  A couple of the guys were kind of reluctant to do an interview, they thought they weren’t really an NHLer because they played just one game.  I said, “No, that’s part of your story.”  So somehow I was able to establish a trust with a lot of these guys and over the telephone, they told me in a lot of cases their life story which I thought was quite generous of them.

EG:  So you had to sell a few of them on it?

KR:  There was a couple of guys I had to sell on it.  50 percent of the time you leave a message, one specifically I remember, I won’t give you his name but I remember him saying, “I don’t really want to do this but my kids might want to know my story so this is a good way to do it.”

Other guys were beyond thrilled that somebody actually remembered them.  A lot of guys at the end of this long conversation would just say, “Thank you for remembering me.”

I said, “Well, that’s what this book is all about.”  To me, if you made it to the greatest league in the world whether it was for one game or a 1000 games, that’s a fantastic accomplishment and I think people should realize that.

A lot of times we watch hockey and we will say, “Oh, that guy sucks.”  Well he doesn’t really suck, because he is in the NHL.  I wanted people to remember that even if these guys did play just one game, that it’s a lifetime worth of work.  In some cases it happened really early when they were 18 or 19 and they had this massive life after it, so what did this game mean to them?  Does it define them? Or is it just part of their hockey journey?  I wanted to find that out but I also wanted these guys to be respected for making it to the best league in the world.

EG:  Could you explain how in-depth the research process was and what you had to do to compliment these stories?

KR:  Honestly, the most fun was just looking for these guys and playing Inspector Gadget and finding out where they are.

The internet is an amazing thing, LinkedIn is an amazing thing.  So (there was) lots of googling, lots of connecting this dot with that dot.

Tracking the guys down was (aided by) a lot of help from people I know and then just cold calls.

EG: In terms of the stat lines from a particular game, especially those that occurred beyond the last 20 years, how hard was that to come up with?

KR:  Hockeyreference.com is fantastic, (on) Hockeydb.com there is a link at the bottom of each season-by-season breakdown which gives you the scoring summary for each game, so I went to that.  In a lot of cases I went to old newspaper archives to get the scoring summary for games, so that was a lot of work.

(Also, I found) a lot of scoring summaries through a link on Hockeydb.com from the Hockey Summary Project (hsp.flyershistory.com), they are acknowledged in the book

A lot of these guys, there last game was 30, 40 or 50 years ago.  They don’t know if they stopped 18 shots or what, so it was just asking guys questions and correlating.

EG:  Bob Ring’s life may have been directly saved by hockey in that he was accepted to Acadia University which allowed him to avoid being sent to the Vietnam War, indirectly was it the fact he played one game with the Boston Bruins that influenced Ralph Winters, the dean of the school of economics, to let him enroll after he had been denied acceptance into the school of commerce?

KR:  He played for the Bruins and that made him ineligible to play in the NCAA, so then he is wondering “What the heck am I going to do?” So luckily he gets to apply to a Canadian university and he wasn’t going to get into the school of commerce and the guy from the school of economics was a hockey player and obviously a fan of the Acadia Axemen and had sympathy on this young hockey player.  If he didn’t play for the Bruins and he was just some random kid from Boston writing saying “Hey, I played junior for the Niagara Falls Flyers”, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten into Acadia.  So maybe that one night did save his life as well.

EG:  You tracked down Dean Morton and Brad Fast, two of three players that scored a goal in their one and only NHL game.  The other, Roland Huard, is deceased, did you find out anything about Huard’s one night only during the 1930-31 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs?

KR: I didn’t, I just kind of went with the guys that were in the book, I didn’t really pursue that story.  It would be interesting to find out what happened, I should probably look into that.  There was a time when I was putting this book together, because there is a number of outstanding stories from back in that day, that I thought I would talk to living relatives of the people that had passed away but then I just wanted to take it from the horse’s mouth and get the guys that played in the game.

EG.  What did you know about Larry Kwong before this book, you tracked him down through B.C. teacher Chad Soon, should people know more about him and his legacy as the first Chinese-Canadian NHL player?

KR:  I did know about Larry Kwong before this book, I knew he was the first Chinese-Canadian to play in the NHL, that was about all I had known.  This guy is a trailblazer, this is a guy people should know more about and he deserves a lot more respect than what he has gotten over the years.

He played one shift for the New York Rangers.  He went through a lot of crap, let’s face it, if he was just a white guy back in the day, he probably would have had a lengthy NHL career.

When he played for the Trail Smoke Eaters, he wanted to work in a certain area of town with the guys and he wasn’t allowed because he was of Chinese descent.

I wanted to have him in the book because as a hockey history geek, I think that Mr. Kwong’s story needs to be told.

I was pleased to send Chad a book and hopefully he will get it to Mr. Kwong because his story is absolutely incredible and he is a humble man, you would never know that he played in the NHL.  Back in the day when he played, he led the New York Rovers, which was the New York Rangers farm team, in scoring.  Everybody else was getting called up, he wasn’t getting called up.  You know why he wasn’t getting called up, it’s because of the way he looked and luckily that is not the way we work anymore.

EG:  There are 40 stories in this book, explain how you settled on this number, were there more you wanted to include that ended up on the cutting room floor?

KR:  Well you settle on 40 because you need a certain number to have enough for a book, a certain amount of words.  It’s also a lot of hard work, tracking down everybody so you put a number in mind and you’re like, “OK, I’ll go for this.”

A lot of guys are deceased, so you couldn’t talk to them, a lot of the guys might get another game in them.

I thought 40 covered the span because we go all the way back to the 1940’s and the 50’s and all the way up to the aught’s with Jamie Doornbosch playing a game for the New York Islanders.  He got a hockey card out of it too, which I thought was pretty cool.

Plus it’s a nice round number and we are a society obsessed with round numbers.  We love 500 goals, we love 1000 games so why not 40 one-gamers.

EG:  Regret doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme, let’s face it, a lot of these guys were never going to have much of a shot, but in the case of Bob Whitlock, he passed on an opportunity to stay with the Minnesota North Stars and returned to his Central Hockey League team, the Iowa Stars.  Is that the most regrettable decision of the one night fraternity in the sense of how he directly dictated his own future?

KR:  He wanted to go back to his minor league team in Iowa to help them on their playoff run and he never got another sniff.  I think Bob kind of looks back and thinks, “If I had just stayed in Minnesota, I don’t know what would have happened.”

I was impressed that the guys didn’t dwell on it.  They have all accepted their lot in life and their lot in the game. Blair Mackasey put it in great perspective, you get as much out of the game as you could whether its one game or 1000, for him it was one.

When you are 20 years old, usually you are thinking of the immediate future and (Whitlock's) immediate future was helping out a team of his buddies in the minors that he spent the whole season with instead of this team of old guys in Minnesota.  That was a regret but I was impressed that the book wasn’t filled with regret.

I thought going in, that regret was going to be a major theme of this book.

EG:  By nature this project deals with the obscure, it is as far from the limelight as you can get when you are talking about NHL hockey.  Given that fact, how important was it to have Don Cherry’s story in the book?

KR:  Don gives the book street cred.  The reason why Don is the last guy is the book is because he is the king of the one-gamers.  To be honest, it probably makes the book sellable.  I’m a hockey nerd, I want to know these stories but not everyone is as nerdy as me.  It’s a lot easier to sell a book with Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr than it is to sell a book with 40 conversations about one-game wonders.  Luckily Don Cherry, who is one of my hockey heroes from when I was a kid, turns out to be a better guy than what I could have imagined when I met him.

He’s been so generous with his time for both of my books.  It’s a thrill to pick up your phone and see that Don Cherry is on your answering machine.  If it wasn’t for Don, this book probably wouldn’t have been published so, "Thank you, Don Cherry.

EG: The mainstream knows Don Cherry from the six minutes they see him every Saturday on the Hockey Night in Canada segment – Coach’s Corner.  In his story, he takes the onus upon himself for derailing his career and also tells about how his mom brought cookies to his first game which led to some razzing by teammates, is he more sensitive and introspective than most people see?

KR:  When you see Don talk about the troops, when you see Don talk about animals, that’s Don, he’s a sensitive guy.  In the book, when he talks about his mom bringing the cookies, you have to think that’s a pretty nice mother, maybe that’s where Don gets the nice heart.

Don is one of the most generous people I have ever come across and most, if not all, of what he does, you don’t even hear about.  I’ve heard some stories of his generosity but I won’t share them because maybe he wants to keep them private. Go take a walk around Toronto and you will probably run into a lot of people he’s helped, a lot of organizations he’s helped without anyone knowing about it.

EG:   Would you give up your career to play one game as an NHLer?

KR:  Yeah I would.  I still would.  My first childhood dream was to be in the NHL, my second childhood dream was to be a sportscaster. I realized I wasn’t good enough to be in the NHL and somehow deked my way into being a sportscaster, but would I give it all up? Yeah.  Then you kind of gamble with the rest of your lot in life.

I think it’s an incredible thing to say you played a game in the NHL, maybe not everyone shares that sentiment but it’s definitely mine and that’s why I wanted to write this book, to tell the stories about the guys that did make it.

EG:   Flipping the table, do you think there are lot of budding anchors that will never make it your level who would give anything to do your job for just one day?

KR:  When I was working at Channel 10 back in the day, I would have given anything to be in this position, so yeah there are probably a lot of budding sports anchors out there, there are lot of them in school who probably dream of being in this positon that I am lucky enough to be in and that’s what I have to remind myself of .  (Even) when you have a bad day, which is few and far between, you are extremely lucky to do what you do.

EG:  What projects are you currently working on?

KR:  I’m working on a book with Dennis Maruk.  He has an incredible story, you are talking about a guy who scored 60 goals (with the Washington Capitals), dined with the president of the U.S., 10 years later he was stevedore on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico.  It will be out a year from now in the fall of 2017.

After that I’ve got Hockey Card Stories: Part 2 coming out, that will be out in the fall of 2018.

EG.  What did you learn about the game that you may not have known, or felt, after conducting these interviews and completing this book?

KR:  I knew that the game wasn’t fair, I learned that in a lot of cases the game takes from you, but you have to take from the game.  You just can’t let the game dictate your lot in life.  You have to enjoy every second.  I’m not a player, but if a player asked me, “What should I do throughout my NHL career?” I would say based on this book, enjoy absolutely every second of it.

That applies to a lot of areas in life, like this job I have, the job you have.  We get to go to a lot of cool places and talk to a lot of cool people.  I don’t know how long it’s going to last, so I should savour every second of it.  That’s kind of what these guys taught me.

EG:  Anything else you would like to add?

KR:  I think people should respect people that made it all the way to their chosen goal in life.  Whether it is for a day or a 1000 days.  I don’t like the phrase no-name, one-game wonder is a fine phrase, to me none of these names are no-names, they all made it, they all should be very proud of what they did.

I’d like to thank all the guys in the book for talking to me because they did not have to do that.  I’m just some stranger calling up and asking to pick their brain about what could be a very emotional thing for them to talk about.

EG.  On that note, were there any emotional calls, did anyone cry or get angry when reflecting?

KR:  There were no tears that I can immediately think of, there were a lot of laughs.  I think most of the guys have just accepted that it is what it is.  There was some regret, some silence sometimes when a guy gets a little instroepctve but mostly a lot of laughs.

Follow Neil Acharya on Twitter: @Neil_Acharya