Book Review: “True Hockey Stories: The Habs”
“True Hockey Stories: The Habs”
Author: Brian McFarlane
Brian McFarlane, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, is one of Canada’s best and most prolific hockey writers. An author of more than 40 books, “True Hockey Stories: The Habs” is the first entry to make The Hockey Book Review. The book is billed as paying homage to hockey’s winningest team. One could certainly argue that it is paying homage to hockey’s greatest team, however, that is a debate for another time.
The forward is written by Bob Gainey. It is eloquent in its hommage and appreciation of the storied franchise of the Habs. When reading the words, it is easy to imagine the reverence and calm manner of Gainey speak.
Mr. McFarlane chronicles the beginning of the franchise in 1909 when Ambrose O’Brien forged ahead with an idea to create a powerful team of French-speaking hockey players. In that first year, Les Canadiens only won 2 games, an inauspicious start. The establishment of the Habs was turbulent. At one point the franchise was sold for $11,000 in 1921. The home of the Habs was not truly established until the Fall of 1924 with the completion of the Forum. Though originally built for the Montreal Wanderers, the Forum would be the home of the Habs for over 70 years and it’s ghosts would guide the team to many successes along the way.
McFarlane addresses all of the major events in the history of the Habs. He does so in a very structured way. As you would expect, the book is divided into chapters. To further supplement this organization, chapters are divided into short anecdotes with headings to tease the reader (the table of contents reflects this as well). Here are some examples,
One of the funniest stories comes from a story called “Houle was a Great Junior”. Dennis Hull, the former Blackhawk star, can testify to Houle’s excitement over making the NHL. “We played in Montreal one night and after the game we were sitting on the team bus parked outside the Forum. We were waiting for the stragglers to climb aboard when I noticed Rejean Houle jump on the bus and look down the aisle. I shouted, ‘Hey Rejean, you’re on the wrong bus.’ And he shouted back, ‘No, I’m not. I’m here to get your brother’s autograph.’” Page 130
This selection is indicative of the personal detail used by Mr. McFarlane. The books is chalked full of similar stories of human side of the players from the Habs. This style of writing makes the book a very easy and for that matter interesting read. When focusing upon a specific team, an author can alienate an audience that is not a fan of said team. Mr. McFarlane, while showing appreciation and respect for the Habs, does not come off as being cheerleader nor is any way gushing with superlatives in this selection. It would be easy to fall into such a trap, however, he is able to navigate past this pitfall and provide a measured and thoughtful account of history.
As previously stated, this book is an easy read and is not a daunting length (only 202 pages). A well-structured Table of Contents and a chronological list of Montreal’s Hockey History at the end is appreciated. However, the absence of an index prevents this book from being a truly excellent reference. Nevertheless, this book is worthy of a read and will bring the history of the Habs to life.
Note: I can't seem to find this book online. The Leafs version of the book is available from Amazon.