Full disclosure: It's not even December yet, but I may as well get this out of the way. TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, who has been both a reader and invaluable source for this site, sent me a copy of his new book Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent. He didn't ask me to write anything about it, but I enjoyed it, so I figured I would write a post about it. Though to be fair, I've enjoyed most everything he's written since I started getting the draft preview issue of The Hockey News when I was a little kid, so I'm not necessarily the most unbiased source, and I'm far from a professional book reviewer. But lack of proper qualifications has never stopped me from giving my opinion on here before.
There are a lot of hockey parents out there with some wild stories about the world of competitive youth hockey. What makes Bob McKenzie the right guy to write a book on life as a hockey parent? Just in case the first 100 pages of Hockey Dad didn't make it clear--and I think it did a pretty good job--he puts it in plain black and white at the start of page 101:
" The premise of this book is that I am not the least bit shy about holding myself up to ridicule and revealing to one and all that I can be a horse's ass at times. "
Hockey Dad is a memoir of McKenzie's experiences as the hockey parent of two sons, Mike, who is an assistant captain at St. Lawrence this year, and Shawn, whose career got cut short at age 14 because of an awful-sounding migraine disorder caused by multiple concussions. It's important to make the distinction that this is McKenzie's story of being a hockey parent, and not just a proud dad bragging about his kids, which is a territory that could be very easy to drift into in a book like this. There may be the occasional mention of a particularly good game or a stat here or there, but thankfully no page-long breathless descriptions of the subtle pass in the neutral zone that led to a game-winning goal. McKenzie makes an effort to keep his wife and children out of the spotlight, at least as much as possible in a story where they're main characters(though there's probably more than enough ammo for the Cornell student section on Mike in the book).
What sets this book apart is that it's not just a memoir. It also works as a lesson for parents of hockey players, or really parents with children in any competitive sport. McKenzie's willingness to be a horse's ass allows him to be exceedingly honest about his time as a hockey parent, whether it be as a coach for his kids or just another parent in the stands. I hesitate to call it a "guide" necessarily because it's not some guy casting himself as an expert and giving all the answers on how to raise a hockey player based on all the great things he's done. McKenzie certainly had some very good ideas. He also did some things that will make you laugh, and a few things that will make you cringe. He doesn't sugarcoat any of it to make himself look better either.
Everyone who has been around a hockey rink has at least a couple stories about That Other Crazy Hockey Parent. It's not very often you hear those stories told in the first person. It personalizes the stories and makes them more meaningful. The over-riding message of all those stories is that as much as youth hockey may seem like Serious Business at the time, most of it isn't worth more than a good chuckle a few years down the line, so long as your kids stay healthy and have fun.
For the average hockey fan, this book is an interesting look at the trials of becoming a hockey player. Most of us only see the finished product at the college or pro level and never think about the decade-plus long process it takes to get a player there.
But it's almost a must-read for anyone with a child playing hockey, or planning on getting their child into the game of hockey. The question is asked a couple times in the book, and implied in the subtitle: Is McKenzie crazy? The real answer is: he's just a parent, who like most, just wants the best for his kids. In the high-stress world of youth hockey, maybe that led him to do some crazy things, but he's certainly not alone in that category. Despite being the Hockey Insider, McKenzie's experiences as a hockey parent aren't all that different from the average hockey parent. He's gone through the experiences, made the mistakes, and learned the lessons. His advice and experience could save hockey parents a lot of potential headaches and frustration.