Blades of steel, a three-inch puck, L-shaped sticks, a sheet of ice. That's all it takes to play hockey - that and one thing more: a love of the game.
That love is the thing that comes through most clearly in this compilation of personal accounts from 91 hockey greats both past and present. They talk of growing up as hockey fans, of playing in junior leagues, of reaching the highest pinnacles of the sport. But as Alexander Mogilny says, "Everyone wants to win the Stanley Cup - absolutely - but the love of the game itself is why we're here."The stories, arranged alphabetically, are candid, humorous, emotional and insightful. They talk of heart-wrenching trades, of political struggles, of substance abuse. They talk of memorable goals, of career milestones and special games. And they trace development of the sport through the '50s and '60s to the present. It's a sport that has seen a lot of change, not so much in how it is played (though that has happened), as in how it is perceived.
"I once tried to impress a woman by telling her I was a Ranger," notes Rod Gilbert. "She asked if I put out forest fires. The New York Rangers were completely unknown to all but about 25,000 fans in a city of 8 million, but I saw that change over the course of my career."
Jeremy Roenick talks of playing hockey in the desert: "We have a big job to do in Phoenix, getting people introduced to hockey and hooked on it. Phoenix is primarily a basketball and football city, but it will come to love hockey."
For all the players there is that driving goal to win the Stanley Cup: joy when it happens, some disappointment when it doesn't.
"Not winning the Cup was disappointing, but the saving grace for me was playing for Team Canada in 1972," writes Dennis Hull. "After the final game in Moscow, we came storming into the dressing room on an unbelievable high. I was sitting next to Yvan Cournoyer, and I asked him if this was like winning the Stanley Cup. He replied, `No, this is ten times better!' I still think to myself that I've won only one less Stanley Cup than Henri Richard."
And for them all there is a camaraderie, a brotherhood among players that is clearly reflected. There's no doubt that this is a team sport. "There's a camaraderie and respect among all hockey players," says Bryan Trottier, "but there's no fooling your teammates when you're victorious. Everyone knows what every player meant to the winning of the Stanley Cup."
From Dale Hawerchuk, who scored 1,000 points over the course of his career: "I get as big a thrill setting up a play as the guy who puts it in. When you're young, you think goals are great, but I've always realized that the goal scorer is not always the most important man in a play. More often that not, the guy who sees the ice, makes the play and creates the chances for the goal scorer - he's the key guy."
Some of hockey's greatest players are represented here: Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Wayne Gretsky, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros. Other names may be familiar only to diehard hockey fans. But they all have interesting things to say. And although many are similar, they are different enough that they don't get tiring. Richly illustrated, "For the Love of Hockey" captures the spirit of the game and personalizes the sport in ways that even non-hockey fans can enjoy.