Friday, December 27, 2013

Review of "Heart of the Blackhawks"

"Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story" by L. Waxy Gregiore and David M. Dupuis

Ice hockey, biography, Blackhawks

October 1, 2013

400 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Pierre Pilote was one of the premier defensemen in the National Hockey League in the late 1950’s and 1960’s but ask most hockey fans today if they have heard of him and you will get mostly blank stares. I was one of those who had never heard of him, but when I saw that this book was available for review on Net Galley, I decided to give it a try. I am glad that I did as this book is not only a biography on Pilote, but also a very good illustration of what life was like in the NHL during the last days of the “Original Six” – the time frame when there were only six franchises in the league.

The structure of the book is true to the form that a biography of an athlete takes. That is, it starts with Pierre’s youth, his family background and uprising and how he developed his hockey skills. It follows his career through the Canadian juniors, the minor league team in Buffalo for which he played (remember this is the 1950’s and only six teams – no Buffalo Sabres yet) and then through his days with the Chicago Blackhawks. His career did extend to the Great Expansion of 1967-68 when the NHL expanded to twelve teams and he finished his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That last fact is a bit ironic, as it was some of the games against the Maple Leafs (as well as the Montreal Canadiens) that Pilote got his reputation as not only an excellent defenseman, but as one of the toughest players of that time as well. The book is filled with many stories from Pilote about those games. Of course, the best ones for both stories and achievement were the 1961 Stanley Cup finals in which the Blackhawks took home the title.
While nearly every sports biography will have stories shared by the athlete portrayed and many fellow players, what made this one a little different was that Pilote talked mostly about two topics – hockey and family. There isn’t a lot of retelling stories in the bars (some, but not many) hotels or trains. That was a positive for me, as I enjoyed the stories about the hockey best. I especially enjoyed those in which the fans were a bit unruly and what the players did to protect themselves.

If there was a negative in the book, I thought it was the overuse of exclamation points by the authors when quoting Pilote or other players. The stories were told as quotations, but each one of them had most of the sentences ending in exclamation points. As a reader, I found this a bit disconcerting, as I would not be able to determine which stories were really exciting for the player to recall. While entertaining, I found these to be distracting.

However, this doesn’t take away the overall enjoyment of reading this book, which was a fun look back at a different era in hockey. Many long-time fans look fondly back at the days of the “Original Six” and this book does that.

I wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim? 

Pace of the book:
At times it felt slow, but overall it is a good read without being tedious. Not being familiar with much NHL history at the time there were only six teams, I took my time in some of the chapters to absorb the information.

Do I recommend?
Yes. While the story is a compact version, it is a good read for anyone who enjoys an uplifting story. The hockey talk is basic enough so that non-sports fan can still understand that part of but enough insight that a fan of the game will enjoy it as well.

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