Friday, March 6, 2015

Blades of Glory: Ice Hockey Has Its Day

I hear it’s been snowing in Kentucky. And Atlanta. And of course Boston. In Minnesota, though, not so much. The prediction for today in Bloomington, Minnesota is a toasty 37 degrees Fahrenheit, which means local kids are wearing Bermuda shorts and riding around in convertibles with the top down. Which is ironic, because Minnesota is the home of U.S. ice hockey, a sport that began on frozen ponds. But it’s since moved indoors to fancy rinks, like the one where the Minnesota State High School Hockey championship games are now being played. Even from SoCal, I can feel the excitement building.

Not long ago, I knew (and cared) little about hockey. That was before I read my colleague John Rosengren’s Blades of Glory. No, it has nothing to do with the silly 2007 figure-skating movie starring Will Ferrell. John’s book came first, back in 2004. Its subtitle is The True Story of a Young Team Bred to Win, and it chronicles a year in the life of Bloomington’s Jefferson High School Jaguars, led by the winningest active coach in Minnesota high school history. Suspense builds as the team works its way toward the state high school tournament. If you don’t think that a high school championship is a big deal, you don’t know Minnesota. Even star coach Herb Brooks, who led the U.S. national team to the “Miracle on Ice” victory over the U.S.S.R. at the 1980 Winter Olympics, has said that winning this high school tournament was his biggest career thrill.

The Miracle on Ice turned into a popular 1981 movie, starring Karl Malden as Brooks and my old pal Andrew Stevens as team hero Mike Eruzione. But the film that apparently has meant the most to young Minnesotans is The Mighty Ducks, the story of a youth hockey team that made good. John’s book taught me that a viewing of The Mighty Ducks is a pre-game ritual for many hockey families. He also mentions in passing one young skater, Dougie Stansberry, who’d appeared as an extra and a skating double in The Mighty Ducks and its sequels. That was his last brush with fame. As a senior, he was abruptly cut from the Jefferson team, and he never got over his disappointment. He graduated and got a job he seemed to like. Then one day he hanged himself.

On the 2000-2001 varsity team covered by Rosengren, nothing so tragic happens. Still, there’s plenty of drama. There are players who rise to the occasion, and others who fall by the wayside.  There are injuries and recuperations. There are players dealing with family woes and fighting their own personal demons. There’s a coach—much loved, much feared, sometimes resented—who desperately wants to finish out his career on a high note. There’s a girls’ team that rises to unexpected heights. And there’s the shadow of bigger social problems, including performance-enhancing drugs  and a system that encourages schools to bag one another’s best players.

Sounds like a movie to me. Or a TV series on the order of Friday Night Lights. Hollywood has indeed come calling. John’s book was first optioned by actor/producer Milo Ventimiglia, who hoped to go the TV route. The current option-holders are two Canadians who’ve commissioned a screenplay, but seem stalled in raising financing for an independent feature.  

John’s introduction to Blades of Glory begins with a line that would sound great in voice-over: “The average teenage boy thinks about sex once every seven seconds; in Minnesota, he thinks about hockey the other six.”  Will we ever hear this read by an actor? Personally, I can’t wait.

John Rosengren and I will both be featured speakers at this year's conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors from April 30 to May 2 in New York City. The public is cordially invited.



  1. The book sounds fascinating - I enjoy "a year in the life of..." tomes. I wonder how disappointed/upset Mr. Rosengren was when the Will Ferrell movie took his title?

  2. I think John is a hard guy to rile -- and he has several other successful books out, all relating to the drama of sports. There's a recent biography of Hank Greenberg, as well as the brand-new "The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption." But I suspect he was a tad irked that I used the movie poster to illustrate the post on his hockey book. He's an excellent writer, as well as a very good guy, and I don't hesitate to recommend anything he's written.