December 28, 2010

The Greatest Game by Todd Denault

It is simply known as "The New Year's Eve Classic." Any good hockey fan knows exactly what game that refers to - the 3-3 tie between the famed Montreal Canadiens and famed Soviet Red Army on December 31st, 1975. So many people also refer to it as the greatest hockey game ever played.

What made this mid-season exhibition game so important? Why has it remained such a touchstone for so many people? What effect did have on the future course of the sport?

That is the focus of Todd Denault's new book  The Greatest Game: The Montreal Canadiens, the Red Army, and the Night That Saved Hockey.

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com - E-Book

This is Denault's follow up title to his inaugural book/instant classic Jacques Plante: Man Who Changed Face of Hockey. Denault returns with his trademark exhaustive research and presents one of the most important hockey books ever written.

In order to answer the aforementioned questions, Denault first sets the stage for that game.That meant going back a full two decades to 1954 when the awesome strength of Soviet hockey was first introduced to Canada, and the idea of a game between the Soviets best and a NHL team was born.

From there the book tells the parallel story of the Soviet Union in international hockey and of the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL. This is done by using Anatoly Tarasov, the father of Russian hockey, as the conduit for the Soviets and Sam Pollock, arguably the greatest general manager in NHL history, for the Canadiens.

Then the reader is introduced to Vladislav Tretiak and Ken Dryden. It is through these two goalies that story flows. Other players certainly are given the spotlight, but it is the intertwined story of the top two goalies in the world in the 1970s that is the constant throughout the book, especially after both Tarasov and to a lesser extent Pollock fade into the background.

The backstory is long but necessary in order to build up the game so when it finally happens you know it's going to be big. Everything in the backstory leads to that game, brilliantly building a much anticipated crescendo. That's a hard thing to do when writing about an event where we all know the result and happened 35 years ago.

While building that crescendo, Denault's amazing research creates a real gem of a text as he looks at the state of hockey at that time. From Canada's external and internal challenges on the international stage to the deteriorating state of the National Hockey League, where only violence seemed to be escalating.

The New Year's Eve game helps to set the table for the golden age of international hockey competition and the Habs subsequent sweep of the Flyers helps sound the death knell for "the goon age" in hockey. Hence the subtitle of the book ... The Montreal Canadiens, the Red Army, and the Night that Saved Hockey.

This is a great history text that offers so much more than just a look at a single match of hockey. Any historical text that offers a look at Soviet hockey gets big kudos from me. As a big student of Soviet hockey history, I have voraciously read anything I can on the subject, and I can tell you Denault's offering is right up there with Lawrence Martin's The Red Machine as the top text book on the subject. And Denault's look back at the Canadian and professional game is every bit as important.

This is a great book for the hardcore hockey fan on your Christmas shopping list. 

Here's the specs:

  • October 2010
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
  • ISBN-10: 077102634X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771026348
  • Price: $32.99
Here's more from McLelland & Stewart:

"This game wasn't about money, points, or trophies. Instead it was played for pride, both personal and national. It was a confrontation twenty years in the making and it marked a turning point in the history of hockey.

"On December 31, 1975, the Montreal Canadiens, the most successful franchise in the NHL, hosted the touring Central Red Army, the dominant team in the Soviet Union. For three hours millions of people in both Canada and the Soviet Union were glued to their television sets. What transpired that evening was a game that surpassed all the hype and was subsequently referred to as "the greatest game ever played." Held at the height of the Cold War, this remarkable contest transcended sports and took on serious cultural, sociological, and political overtones. And while the final result was a 3-3 tie, no one who saw the game was left disappointed. This exhibition of skill was hockey at its finest, and it set the bar for what was to follow as the sport began its global expansion."
Buy The Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com - E-Book
And if you're interested in this title, I also recommend:

3 comments:

Anonymous,  August 21, 2011 at 4:28 PM  

Could anybody tell me the name of the Russian player in the center on the cover?

Anonymous,  August 21, 2011 at 4:29 PM  

Could anybody tell me the name of the Russian player in the center on the cover?

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