I think it was the third or fourth day of my new job at The Hockey News in 1988 – during my first go-round at this wonderful place – when I entered the inner sanctum of my boss’ office to ask him a question.
Instead of greeting his new charge with an encouraging, “Good morning,” he looked up at me from his desk, scowled and said, “What the (expletive) do you want?”
Bob McKenzie and I have a running gag over that exchange now, but as a mid-20s, a-little-wet-behind-the-ears guy in this business, I truly thought at the time I was going to soil myself.
As I would learn later, that was only Bob being Bob and he was only sorta, kinda, maybe half-kidding. I also learned that day and in subsequent years McKenzie is the kind of guy who shoots directly from the hip, pulls no punches and is brutally honest regardless of the consequences.
And McKenzie puts himself on full display for all to see in his first book, Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent, a 276-page tome that guides the reader through McKenzie’s personal odyssey as a dad of two hockey-playing boys.
The project isn’t so much a how-to guide for hockey parents as it is a personal reflection on his involvement in the game, but through his experiences and insights, McKenzie does offer up a good amount of advice on how to handle this whole minor hockey thing. But the best thing about it is he does it by passing on to the reader both the good and the bad and fully exposes both the good and the very bad, both of minor hockey and of himself.
One of Canada’s most recognizable hockey media personalities as one of TSN’s Hockey Insiders, the former editor-in-chief here at THN describes in painstaking detail the trials and tribulations of life for parents and kids in minor hockey as seen through his looking glass. He deals with both his and his sons’ shortcomings honestly and directly and does so with equal touches of humor, poignancy and keen insight.
One way in which I often judge a book or movie is how emotionally attached I get to the people telling and living the story. In Hockey Dad, you’ll find yourselves cheering for Michael and Shawn McKenzie and maybe a little bit for their father, too.
You’ll likely feel the sense of hopelessness and despair they felt when Shawn had to quit competitive hockey at the age of 14 after suffering his seventh concussion, two of which were hockey-related.
You’ll find yourself feeling terrible for Michael after he gets kicked out of the biggest game of his life and you might want to grab for the tissues when you read about the touching exchange between father and inconsolable son in the dressing room immediately after the ejection.
“I told Mike to stand up and gave him a great big hug,” McKenzie writes. “I told him his team still needed him; he had to get changed, showered and show his face; that he needed to walk out of that room with his head held high; that he should be proud of what he accomplished this season and he had nothing to be ashamed of. I told him, win or lose, to make sure he was in the handshake line on the ice when the game was over, that shit happens; it was over and done with, time to move on and that he had a chance to play many more games, something his brother Shawn couldn’t say.”
But McKenzie doesn’t call himself Crazy Hockey Dad for nothing. Sometimes the craziness was simply in the form of doing everything humanly possible to give his sons the best chance at success in minor hockey. But McKenzie also chronicles the times he did some truly reprehensible things, such as driving his son to tears by threatening to cut him from his Triple-A team if his play didn’t improve or prompting police involvement after running around an arena to get at an opposing coach.
Yes, there is much to be gleaned for parents of minor hockey from McKenzie’s minor hockey memoirs, both from the good and bad things he did along the way. In doing so, he also exposes some very ugly sides to minor hockey both on and off the ice. And you probably won’t agree with everything McKenzie did and thinks about the game. More often than not, though, you get the idea the decade-plus rollercoaster ride was more than worth it for both McKenzie and his kids.
And if you’re the parent of a young person playing this game, Hockey Dad is well worth the read.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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