Ken Reid’s ‘One Night Only’ not your typical hockey book


Don Cherry. (Chris Young/CP)

The best hockey books, it seems, are the ones that merely use the sport as a jumping off point.

Otherwise, you’re preaching to the choir.

Sure, Ken Reid didn’t start out with that in mind when he began mining the pages of for former hockey players who’d played just one NHL game for his new book, One Night Only. He wanted to tell the story of those who’d dreamed big and come up with just one flash of brilliance to show for it.

Instead, he got way more. Like this story about Bob Ring.

“All I knew about Bob Ring was that he played one game with the Boston Bruins, played junior in Niagara Falls, and went to Acadia University,” Reid told us recently while just outside the studio where he does Hockey Central on Sportsnet. “After my one, open-ended question, I found out he went to Acadia so he didn’t have to go to Vietnam. So hockey basically saved him from the draft and the war. After that, my mind was open to all the places this thing could go. I thought I was calling him up for a hockey story and I ended up getting his life story.

“For a lot these guys, their one night only was just part of their hockey journey, and part of their life journey. They’re not necessarily defined by that one game.”

It’s true. As you read through the numerous and varied stories — including one from Don Cherry — you see the different realities that these players, mostly from decades past, faced that made playing one game in the NHL either heartbreaking, thrilling, or hardly memorable.

“With this book, I had a preconceived notion that a lot of these guys would be bitter,” said Reid. “Most, if not all, weren’t bitter. I had to change my approach.

“Some guys could give you intimate details of the game and some guys had trouble even remembering who they played against. For some, it didn’t register at the time that that night would be their only game. But then someone like Don Cherry, when he tells his story, can take you right back to the Montreal Forum in the mid ’50s.”

In reading the book, it sounds like some of these guys were like Geena Davis’s character in A League of Their Own — supremely talented but perhaps indifferent about their future in the game. The NHL was just one career option at a time when young men didn’t devote all their time, energy and sweat to being a hockey player.

Some players Ken called hung up on him thinking he wasn’t serious.

“A guy in the book, Minnie” Menard, was offered a chance to come back to the NHL, but he was making way more money playing senior hockey in Belleville,” said Reid. “Why would he take almost a 50 per cent pay cut to play in the NHL? Maybe the mystique of the NHL wasn’t there then but would you take a massive pay cut to play in another league? Bob Whitlock was offered a contract but he wanted to go back to junior to help his buddies during their playoff run.

“Maybe with all the books about hockey and all that’s written about the NHL, it’s a much more magical place now, at least in our eyes, than it was then. We look at the time of the Original Six as being very romantic, but unless you were a part of it, you don’t really know what it was like.”

The book became personal for Ken when he learned that one of the players on that list was Trevor Fahey, a native of Reid’s hometown of Pictou, Nova Scotia and his former instructor at a local hockey camp.

“There was always this mystique around who ran the school at Hector Arena in Pictou, and we knew it was Trevor Fahey who we’d heard had played one game in the NHL for the New York Rangers,” Reid explained. “When I started this book, Trevor was one of the first guys I reached out to because there was a connection there for me. I must have called him for three months before he finally said, ‘I had to call you back, I heard you’re from Pictou.’ It was a big deal for me to have in my book.”

It turns out Fahey was one of the first Canadians to visit Russia in the 1970s after the famed 1972 Summit Series to study the game from the Russian’s perspective. Many of the drills Reid remembers from Hector Arena resembled Russian tactics.

“He must be in heaven watching hockey today because it’s all skill,” Reid said. Fahey will turn 73 in January.

How appropriate, then, that Reid went from taking instruction from Fahey in Nova Scotia to picking up the conversation with him years later and learning something new.

“I’ve learned a lot of lessons doing this,” said Reid. “It’s easy to be bitter. These guys had their dream job for just a moment but they realized that they reached the pinnacle of their profession. I think they should be respected for that. You really should take the time to smell the roses if you get to somewhere where you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. If you’re at your dream job and you’re having a bad day, is it really that bad?”

Reid said he gets to live his dream — second only to playing in the NHL — by being part of a sports broadcast every day. He did get a “one night only” experience of his own during the 2004-05 lockout when he was put through the paces of an Ottawa Senators training camp under Bryan Murray.

“The best compliment I can get is someone saying, ‘[My] mother doesn’t watch sports but she likes you guys because you make it entertaining,'” he said.

“If I can open up sports to somebody else — cool!”

While Ken’s book is up against other hockey titles for the holiday season with names on their covers such as Wayne Gretzky, Wendel Clark, Don Cherry, and Bob Cole, his might be for a broader audience, one that can enjoy these stories without being a hardcore hockey fan.

“People probably won’t run into a book store on Christmas eve and grab my book off the shelf because they know their cousin Ned will like it but, ironically, this is a book for anyone.

“But please grab this for cousin Ned if you like.”

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