(Ed. Note: As we're all hitting the beach or going poolside in the coming weeks, there are no doubt hockey books lined up on your shelf or on your Kindle. Philip Painter, director of the Puerto Rican Ice Hockey Federation and a puckhead bookworm, was kind enough to offer his off-the-radar alternatives to the usual hockey bibliography. Here is Phil's 'dirty dozen' of hockey books.)
By Philip Painter
As I write this I'm sitting on the beach … well, alright, I live in the tropics so I sit on the beach every day, so that's not the point. The point is that the hockey season feels like it's really, truly over. Time to go cold turkey on your hockey jones, you say? Au contraire, say I. Now is the time to get your hockey beach read on.
There are some great hockey writers that have written some great books. This will not be that list. This list will be the sauciest-raunchiest sex-crime laden dysfunctional hockey books that have gone relatively un-noticed, written by some of literatures finest award-winning craftsmen.
These are the books your girlfriend/wife will want to swap you the new Cosmo for, so you can get a few sex pointers from Sarah J. Parker — I believe this is called "getting your Avery on."
As added bonuses, three of these have been adapted into seldom seen movies, so with a little searching, these titles should be able to keep your jones on an IV drip until preseason.
So grab your sunscreen, a full cooler and get the boom box to crank your summertime hits; and settle into the lurid world of hockey as seen from these strange outside perspectives.
Some are available digitally and some are available at on-line bookstores and EBay. In no particular order here they are. Your starting six. Enjoy!
"Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League" By Cleo Birdwell (1980)
This was the literary world's worst kept secret for years. Cleo Birdwell was the Nom de Plume of none other than National Book Award winner Don DeLillo (White Noise, Libra and Mao 2 among a dozen other best selling titles).
Delillo knows his sports as evidenced from his book/movie Game Six, an irreverent look at the Sox —Mets milestone 1986 World Series. So what made him tackle this theme? It was a full decade before Manon Rheaume, whose auto-bio (Alone in Front of the Net) is far too pale too makes this list, unfortunately, and Delillo has Cleo as a hard hitting New York Ranger while the team is under Saudi ownership.
Cleo also happens to be gorgeous and has everyone wanting a piece of her. Fortunately, she obliges all of them while secretly sheltering her ex-teammate, who is suffering from "Jumping Frenchman's disease" (A true ailment no less) in her Manhattan townhome.
While she has no limits in her sexual voraciousness she does have qualms about being the spokesperson for Amazons — the first snack made just for women.
Delillo nails 1980 topics like the European invasion and expansion into questionable markets, as well as foretelling the future of questionable ownership policies. Hers is being requested to wear a veil while patrolling the blue line as not to offend her bed-checking, panty-stealing Muslim owners, all the while in a late season push for the playoffs.
The hockey is spot on, the sex is often and quite graphic, and the social satire is crafted as only a master like Delillo can handle so deftly. This book has the most disturbing use of a credit card in print.
Finding a copy of this can be tricky as Delillo refused to do a second printing and some hardbacks can be quite pricy. Find this book; it's worth it.
"Murder Without Icing" by Emma Lathen (1972)
A classic whodunit From the American Agatha Christie. This is the 14th in a series featuring detective John Putnam Thatcher. The setting is a fictional New York expansion franchise, The Huskies, that has the WHA NY Knights written all over it. The story centers on the death of the young star center, and the team owner. All hinging on the team relocating to Nashville!
Not unlike Nancy Dowd's insight in Slap Shot, sometimes a female writer can grab the subtleties that men overlook.
Although there isn't as much graphic sex as in the other picks this one moves quite nicely and the hockey is portrayed quite accurately it also has the twists and surprise ending only a master of the genre can deliver. It's worth owning for the cover alone. It's a relatively cheap, easy find.
"The Good Body" by Bill Gaston (2001)
The difficult story of Bobby Bonaduce. A midlevel 40-year-old semi-pro player who returns to his hometown of Fredericton. New Brunswick after the minor league team he played for in upstate New York suddenly folds. He is forced to confront his not quite ex-wife and 20-year-old son, all the while withholding the secret that he has multiple sclerosis
Bobby re-enrolls in college as a creative writing major and moves into an off-campus house with five college age kids. All as part of his plan to be eligible to play hockey with his son for the long lost bonding moment, although it becomes apparent his body won't let this happen
This book somehow ties heartbreak and comedy together quite well, The sex, drugs and strained relationship quotient is high. The ending will stay with you long after the last page.
"The Divine Ryans" by Wayne Johnston (1999)
From the author of the critically acclaimed Colony of Unrequited Dreams. This odd little Newfoundland book starts with young Draper Doyle Ryan waking up from a nightmare of a giant puck crashing through the roof and his dead father in the living room trying to explain the family secret.
The Ryans are a strange family of undertakers who also own The Daily Chronicle in St John's ('Digging up Dirt for 100 years' is the family motto) whose lives revolve around religion and hockey, at times at odds with each other as the parallels between the Habs and Leafs and Catholicism and Protestantism. This is a weekly battle waged every Saturday night with the family ritual of Hockey Night in Canada.
This book also lends insight into the almost freemason-like truth behind the fabled CH on the Habs sweaters. It also has a mysterious uncle who is playing hockey in England for a club called the "Blades". Nothing is as it seems and the final resolution is quite unexpected. There are plenty of odd relationship factors here and plenty of good Old Catholic sex guilt to keep you interested from page one.
This has also been made into a very enjoyable movie with much of the hockey sequences shot in the old Memorial Coliseum.
"The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story Of Bank Heists Ice Hockey Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling Moonlighting Detectives and Broken Hearts" By Julian Rubenstien (2005)
Attila Ambrus is the man. This is a true story that starts with Attila's escape from Transylvania as a pelt smuggler to his role as the back-up goaltender for the Hungarian National team at the end of communist rule, even though his skill level is minimal at best.
Along the way he becomes a national folk hero for his non-violent Jack Daniels fueled bank robberies, as the newly independent country embraces capitalism. His teammates aren't even aware of his alter ego, Chicky Panther, although they do wonder why their worst player drives assorted luxury cars and takes more vacations than their government superiors. Quite often with the sexiest girls in Budapest.
It isn't until he cuts a teammate in on his doings that it all becomes unraveled.
This book has it all: Drugs-Sex-Crime-Political intrigue and a true folk hero.
Johnny Depp has bought the rights to this and it is rumored to be in development. For now, there are numerous YouTube clips and even songs praising his cult hero status. Get your Attilla on!
"Gross Misconduct: The Life of Spinner Spencer" By Martin O'Malley (1988)
The Gold standard of the list.
Also a true story Former Leaf/Sabre/Islander/Penguin grinder Bryan Spencer. This book has absolutely everything this list is about. Drugs-sex-money and multiple murders. It's also a well-researched background portrait on what it takes to make it to the NHL on minimal skills. What it takes to stay there and what happens when the roar of the crowd is long gone.
The book starts with Bryan's father being shot and killed by the police in British Columbia when the CBC won't air his Leafs debut in favor of the local Canucks game, against his armed disagreement. It then follows his journeyman career right into his slide into oblivion in Florida in the midst of the drug fueled 80's. While living with a call girl, Bryan is charged with murder. He wins the case and is freed only to be killed in a late night hold-up.
Many former players from the Sabres French Connection era are featured as his determined gritty style made him a fan favorite. Girls will fall for Bryan as he claims all his problems are the fault of his big…
This was also a fantastic made for TV movie, directed by Academy Award winner Atom Egoyan. It's a tough find to own, but available on YouTube.
• • •
So there it is class, your summer hockey reading list. I wish you the best of luck tracking these nuggets down as each of them is a classic in their own right and deserve space in any good hockey collection. And if your woman refuses to relinquish them back to you, remember what Chelsea Handler told me in the new Cosmo: Guys holding out sex on women is an effective bargaining tool too. Or you can hide her Vodka.
As well as being an author/actor/musician and Puerto Rico's #1 Bingo Caller. Philip Painter is the Director of the Puerto Rican Ice Hockey Federation. The team is gearing up to go to Argentina for the first ever Latin American tourney. Stay tuned. Stop by and check out excerpts from his upcoming book, "Deshielo: Melting Ice."