I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael McKinley, the author of Hockey: A People's History. (Editor's Note: This interview was conducted via e-mail. I realize some of the follow-up questions would not make sense if asked in sequence during an in-person interview.)
It is clear you conducted tons of research to create the definitive history of the game of hockey. How long did the project take to complete from the initial concept to the publishing of the first edition?
It was remarkably fast—about a year and a half. I wrote a book called Putting a Roof on Winter that tells the story of hockey from the first indoor game in Montreal on March 3, 1875 up until the 1972 Summit Series. CBC TV read it, and wanted to build a TV series—in a similar style to Ken Burns’ "Baseball", though with dramatic recreations of games in HD –so asked me if I’d like to write the book accompanying the ten hour TV series. So, I’d already done a lot of research for the first book, and then had the glorious luxury of about 40 research assistants, as the TV people sent me all their research, and I sent them mine, and we worked off each other quite seamlessly. Doubt that working environment for a book will ever happen again, but I enjoyed it immensely.
The book can be read in sequence as a pleasure read, but the large format and stunning photos also lends itself to being a coffee table book. What was your initial vision for the book?
What team did you grow up watching and are you still a fan of that team?
The Vancouver Canucks, and yes, I’m still a fan, and yes, my psychotherapist is very happy as I’m paying his mortgage.
I have played in beer leagues in Vancouver, and now looking to form one in my neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, where I now live. My daughter, who is five, knows how to skate but wants to try her hand at hockey, and Hockey USA has a brilliant program whereby they’ll give a child all the gear, including skates, and three hours of Saturday morning instruction for four weeks –all for $35. If the child likes the sport, then the parent can invest in gear and so on, but it’s a wonderful program and my daughter will start it in the fall, so perhaps I might wind up as a coach. I still hope to win the Stanley Cup, somehow, and being a Vancouver Canucks’ fan, long ago realized I’ll have to do it myself!
What is your greatest hockey memory?
I was just a kid when Paul Henderson scored his goal to win the 1972 Summit Series in the 8th and final game against the Russians, but I remember it vividly. My dad was home for work with a cold, and I was home, and we watched it together, and the sheer joy of that last minute victory after so much adversity for Team Canada was really the beginning of my love affair with the dramatic power of sport
You co-authored Willie O'Ree's autobiography. What was that experience like? Were there any stories from Willie that didn't make it into the book that Bruins fans would find interesting?
Willie O’Ree is a wonderful man—generous, insightful about both the game and people, and very diplomatic. It was a children’s book we did together, so there were a couple of stories that didn’t make it in, and both involved violence against O’Ree on the ice (and I can’t tell them here either because the kids book is still out there…). Suffice to say O’Ree loved playing in Boston, and remarked several times how great the fans were there. He also liked playing in Montreal, but was not keen on Chicago.
While doing your research for "Hockey: A People's History", was there one story or fact that really stands out that you uncovered that you found really interesting?
What is the most interesting Bruins related story you found?
Bobby Orr. I mean, he was the Bruins in so many ways, and it’s shocking to remember he retired at age 30, with two Stanley Cup rings, eight Norris Trophies, and knees so bad he said if he had been a horse they would have shot him. Orr revived the great Bruins franchise, and to this day still remains the definitive face of it—even though his genius in the black and gold happened four decades ago.
You wrote a few pages in the book about the hockey blogosphere. Do you think the NHL has done a better job than other professional sports leagues in North America of leveraging the power of social media?
I don’t know if the NHL has done a better job—I think the bloggers have. There are so many knowledgeable and committed bloggers in hockeyland that the NHL pretty much had to draft on to them in order to avoid being left out.
Do you think the rules changes coming out of the NHL lockout have improved the game?
Yes. I like the fact the referees, for the most part, actually call the rule book now, and I like the fact that speed and skill have been rewarded. Nevertheless, they have not acted quickly enough to eliminate head shots, and punish those who deliberately inflict them.
Do you think fighting should always have a place in the pro game?
You live in Vancouver, were you able to catch any of the hockey games during the Olympics?
The book seems to be written from a Canadian prospective for a Canadian audience, but all hockey fans should find this to be a good read. Can hockey fans down here in the Lower 48 find your book at their local bookstore?