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There are plenty of blockbuster movies hitting the theatres around Christmastime, and in a way, Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspiring Stories On and Off the Ice is a lot like those popcorn flicks. You have a huge star drawing people to the book in TSN's Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie; a secondary name who's no slouch himself, in Jim Lang; the executive producers behind the scenes make it all happen, somewhat unrecognized. But in the end, it's the final product that either works or it doesn't.
Spoiler alert, while nothing blows up in Everyday Hockey Heroes, there's plenty of drama, tragedy, heartbreak, and loss, along with moments of pure joy and moving inspiration. It's readable and accessible, and, most importantly, you don't have to have be familiar with any of the subjects ahead of time to get the most out of your time reading it.
Lang, who co-wrote books with Wendel Clark and Tie Domi, was approached first by publisher Simon and Schuster in November 2017. “Once they pitched me the concept of the book, I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t wait to get started,” Lang said via email.
It wasn't long after that McKenzie came on board. “Bob came into the picture in January of 2018, following the World Junior Hockey Championships. Once the World Juniors were over, Bob was all in on the book project,” said Lang.
From the surface, it would appear that it's McKenzie's book, as his name is big and prominent, with an author photo, but in the introduction—one of two pieces McKenzie's byline appears with in the book—he explained Lang's role: “Jim Lang, an accomplished broadcaster and author, interviewed almost everyone you'll meet in these pages and helped them all share their stories, and I wanted to contribute in a significant way, too. I wanted to write the introduction, and I wanted to write the final chapter on my pal Kevin Brown, whose story I've wanted to tell for a while.”
Lang scoffed at the idea that McKenzie didn't do much on Everyday Hockey Heroes. “Bob is far too modest. He was to this book what a great captain would be to a championship hockey team; invaluable,” said Lang. “At least a third of the chapters in the book would not have been possible without Bob and his seemingly endless list of contacts. Bob and I would touch base on a regular basis to update the progress of the book and make sure we were on the right track.”
Actors need someone directing their scenes, and, for Lang and McKenzie, it was editor Sarah St. Pierre who kept them in line. “There really is no way this book would have been completed without our editor Sarah St. Pierre,” revealed Lang. “Because we were dealing with so many stories from all over North America, we needed someone like Sarah to keep up us organized and make sure we were completing all our deadlines. Sarah would check in with Bob and I every few days to check on our progress and thanks to her efforts, we were able to complete the book in what was a very tight deadline.”
The book's promotional material (EverydayHockeyHeroes.ca) lays out what it's about better than I can: “Meet Philadelphia Flyer Wayne Simmonds and Paralympian gold medalist Greg Westlake, who wouldn’t be at the top of their sport without the never-ending support of their families and communities. See how they’re giving back to show young hockey hopefuls that anything is possible. Read about players like Ben Fanelli, who overcame catastrophic injury to keep playing the game he loved and is using his story as a platform to help others, or the renowned Canadian neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, who is leading the charge to protect athletes from the dangers of brain trauma and concussion. From hockey commentators Andi Petrillo and Harnarayan Singh, who broke down barriers to be on air, to Karina Potvin, the youth hockey coach welcoming Syrian boys and girls to Canada by introducing them to our national pastime, these are the stories of everyday hockey heroes—those who defy the odds, advocate for inclusion, and champion the next generation of hockey.”
Who got chosen for a feature? How were things decided? “Picking the subjects was a team effort,” said Lang. “We would all come up with ideas and bounce them off each other. From that productive collaboration, we were able to come up with the list chapters that you see today. Without question, it was a total team effort.”
It's a very Canadian book in its inclusiveness, even if not every subject is from the Great White North. As McKenzie writes in the introduction, “It's not by accident that the storytellers in this book represent the interests of a wide cross-section of the population—men, women, black, white, Canadian, American, Metis, Punjabi, LGBTQ, immigrants, blind, deaf, disabled, rich, poor.”
“We wanted to do our very best to represent everyone in Canada,” said Lang. “Hockey is for everyone and to that end, we needed to do stories on people from all backgrounds in order to do the story justice.”
You'll recognize some of the names for sure, but many you will never have heard of, but once you finish reading about them, you won't forget them. “The goal was absolutely to tell the stories of people making a difference in hockey, both and off the ice,” said Lang. “Particularly, people nobody has ever heard of, but do great work everyday to be a part of the sport they love, hockey.”
For their next starring roles, McKenzie is still front and centre on TSN, and Lang hosts the morning show “The Jim Lang Show” on CFMS-FM, out of Markham, Ontario. Like an actor embargoed from talking about a forthcoming role, Lang also teases another book. “Fingers crossed, I should have another book on the shelves by November of 2019. All I can say is that is about a current NHL player.”
No doubt, the box office numbers will prove McKenzie and Lang are still marketable stars.
Jim Lang gives Everyday Hockey Heroes the thumbs up.
Eddie Olczyk is working his autobiography with author Perry Lefko, and it'll be out in the fall 2019 through Triumph Books.
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