Book Review - Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer by Jack Falla
Being the hockey fan I am, I was drawn to Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer by Jack Falla mainly by the title. Born and raised on the west coast, I knew nothing of Falla's history as a sportswriter, but I can understand the mindset of someone for whom hockey is a definition of their life. This turned out to be an excellent, thoughtful read, made even more poignant when I learned that Falla passed away in September, a month after the book was written...
A Death in Montreal; Short Shifting in Fantasy Land; Skating the Rideau Canal; New Skates; Passing the Torch; "Excuse me, Mr. Delvecchio..."; Back to the Barns; Requiem for the Cucumber; Much of What I Know about Life I Learned Tending Goal; The Rink Rat; Unknockable; Searching for Hobey Baker; Goodbye to the Backyard Rink?; Acknowledgments; About the Author
Falla wrote and covered hockey for Sports Illustrated in the 1980's, but his attachment to hockey goes far deeper. Like many of that time, he grew up following and idolizing the Orrs, Richards, and Beliveaus, the names that made hockey what it is today. But even deeper than that, the game became part of his being, from visiting the ice rinks of the "original six" to building his own backyard outdoor rink every winter. Open Ice is a series of his stories and thoughts about his attachment to the game, and what he's done to uncover the stories of the legends. In some cases, it's attending the funeral of Maurice Richard in Montreal, even though he had to travel halfway across the country to do so, just because it seemed like the right thing to do. Other stories revolve around his quests to discover the deeper personal stories behind old-timers like Hobey Baker and Georges Vezina. In the process, I as the reader get to know and understand the real person behind the historical image that we have left after so many years.
The stories that affected me most were his personal anecdotes. For instance, he talks about how he snuck out of college one day to watch the Red Wings practice at the old Boston Gardens. Detroit skated out, and seemed to be missing a goalie. Falla played goalie growing up, and thought it would be an incredible experience to be on the ice, if even for just a practice session. He mustered up all the courage he had and asked Alex Delvecchio if they needed a practice goalie. Even thought they didn't need him, the lessons he learned about pushing past fear to take a chance resonated deeply. Same with the last story about his backyard rink and his struggles to continue the tradition as he got older. Even though he always felt as if it was "the last year" he'd do it, the tradition and continuity it provided him, his family, and his friends would always provide the last-minute motivation to redig the post holes and set the boards up one more time.
If all you want are stories about hockey players, Open Ice will be a disappointment. But if you are in a reflective mood and enjoy reading about things that drive people on in life, Open Ice is an excellent read, guaranteed to make you feel warm and connected.