The foreword of Hockey Confidential, the latest book from TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, begins with what amounts to an apology. The title of the book--suggested by McKenzie’s publishers and ultimately kept for lack of a better alternative--implies a certain salacious nature. There’s no one more connected to the inner workings of the National Hockey League than McKenzie, so who better to spill all of the game’s dirty little secrets?
McKenzie is aware of that expectation, and knows that for anyone looking for that book, he doesn’t deliver. For someone that built his reputation on being one of the most honest, honorable, and decent people in the business, he was never going to write that book.
Instead, McKenzie takes a different tact. In 11 stand-alone chapters, McKenzie takes a different archetype in the game of hockey--The League Administrator, The Trainer, The Star, The Commentator, The Fighter, etc.-- and attempts to tell a story that adds a third dimension to the person.
No chapter better explains the central idea of the book than the second chapter on chiropractor-to-the-stars Dr. Mark Lindsay. An entire book could likely be filled with anecdotes of the famous people Lindsay has treated, but that’s not the focus of the chapter. In fact, due to doctor-patient confidentiality, the only name-dropping at all comes from what McKenzie was able to find by combing the internet. But it does provide an inside look into the tremendous lengths elite-level athletes go to in order to keep their bodies in condition to stay at their absolute best. It’s not a sexy story, but an important one, and one that average fan might not necessarily think about.
As you’d expect, some chapters work better than others. Brandon Prust’s story as a fighter in the NHL never elevates past the usual meathead cliches. And as an American, a chapter on the Tragically Hip didn’t spark much interest.
But the best chapters find a way to bring out an incredible depth of character. Much has been and will be written about Connor McDavid this year, but McKenzie’s take on the exceptional young player stands out; from the near monomania in his youth that cultivated his natural gifts into potential superstardom to his agent Bobby Orr’s advice on handling the pressures he faces as the future face of the game(Mostly “make sure you get enough sleep”). A personal favorite was the chapter that featured McKenzie traveling to a Toronto-area youth game with Don Cherry and his son. Cherry is transformed from the bombastic, loathsome figure you’re likely familiar with to an older relative that you love and respect, with an unfortunately large platform to spout his most out-of-date viewpoints.
Hockey Confidential isn’t loaded with secrets and gossip, but through its’ 11 stories, McKenzie reveals maybe the biggest secret of all about the world of hockey. Behind the bright lights of the big stage, and the constant media attention and all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with life in the NHL, there are real human beings. It seems obvious, but it’s a point all too often forgotten as we debate and banter about the news of the day. It may not titillate, but it does teach, which is enough to make it a good read.