When the Lights Went Out
A Q&A with author Gare Joyce
A few of you may be familiar with veteran sportswriter Gare Joyce, author of When the Lights Went Out, and a recent addition to the hockey blogosphere.
I had the chance to run a few questions by him recently after finishing his latest book on the 1987 world junior hockey tournament brawl, and the results are as follows:
If you watched that game at the time — which I did — you were caught between the belief that Canada could win by five goals and the foreboding that the game was out of control. Only when I sat down with a video of the game last year did I realize just how brutally physical (and almost comically dirty) it was. Theoren Fleury said it was by far the dirtiest game he ever played in — and when you figure that he played in the last instalments of the 80s-era Flames-Oliers match-ups, that's saying something.
I'd say more than a few NHLers went on to fame — on the Canadian side you had Shanahan and Fleury and Mike Keane leading the way; on the Soviet roster Mogilny and Fedorov and Konstantinov stand out. I think if you looked at, say, the rosters of the Canadian and Russian teams that played in Halifax a few years back, you'd actually see that more players from that bad '87 Soviet team made the grade in the NHL than will come off the '02 Russian team (Ovechkin notwithstanding).
The key to me wasn't numbers of players who went on the NHL but their significance — beyond simple statistics and Stanley Cups. Shanahan went from a popular player with a great sense of humour to a leader in the movement to fix a game that had been dragged down to a crawl. Fleury wasn't the most troubled player of his era — Fogarty and Kordic among others would be up ahead of him — but he was surely the most gifted troubled player. Mogilny was the first player to jump the wall, which in retrospect took amazing courage — almost recklessness — to do at age 20. He and Fedorov might have been the biggest enigmas of the 90s — a guy scoring over 70 goals, the other winning a Hart Trophy, and yet there was always a notion that they could have been even better if they were more passionate about the game. In the rear view mirror, I suppose that we didn't give them enough credit for how seriously they took the game (more so on Fedorov's part).
For me, a pretty good measure of the potential audience was the views of the fight on YouTube — not up in the millions but a steady churn of thousands over a month or so. I figured I could count on forty- and fifty-something hockey fans who watched the game to have an interest in the book.
- the arrival of players from Eastern Europe
- the elimination of bench-clearing brawls
- the emergence of the world junior tournament as a highlight of the hockey season
- the flowering of Don Cherry as a full-throated voice not just in hockey but in the national culture
Q Pierre Turgeon certainly gets a rough ride in the book. Isn't is a little bit of a strange situation to have players who had cups of coffee in the NHL questioning a 1,327-point scorer's worth? (I'm thinking of Everett Sanipass here)
A Not at all. Throughout his career — and especially in Montreal — he was questioned by hundreds of sportswriters who never played the game and hundreds of thousands of fans who never even bought a ticket. I think the most telling criticisms actually issued not from his teammates on the Canadian team in Piestany, but from folks who were footing his bill in the NHL. In fact, what Sanipass and [Stephane] Roy and others said about Turgeon in Piestany foreshadowed the criticisms Turgeon faced in the NHL.
Q Who was the most difficult player and/or figure to track down all these years later? Were you surprised by how many managed to stay in hockey, or at how many had moved on?
A I would have liked to have found more players on the Soviet side. I tracked down practically everybody on the Canadian side, except for Dave Latta, Chris Joseph and Yvon Corriveau. The ref, Hans Ronning, was the hardest "get" and maybe the most indispensable ... he deserves the largest share of the blame for the game getting out of control and ending in controversy.
The easiest thing for us on the sidelines is to suggest that a player should retire ... the toughest thing is for one of those guys, even someone who was never remotely a star, to let go of what he's done all his life.
Q What was the most difficult interview to do? And did you encounter a lot of reluctance from many of the participants?
A Turgeon, probably, was difficult and yet he wasn't reluctant at all. Maybe he presumed that others would stick to the what-goes-on-in-the-room-stays
But even more difficult was [Canadian head coach] Bert Templeton's widow, Sandy. Bert was a piece of work — for any who ever dealt with him, that's just understood. A textbook hard-ass. Yet Sandy is a God-fearing woman who loved him to pieces, and I think she was genuinely hurt when people said bad things about her late husband. I had to convince that I wasn't out to throw Bert under the bus — the CAHA did that back in '87. I thought the book could clear his name and rep — at least as far as Piestany went.
Pat Burns was also difficult — if not for him, for me. He was in the throes of his recovery from cancer. I had a health issue of my own a while back. So we talked a bit about mortality and all ... I felt like a wet noodle when I started asking about Piestany. "You wanna know about our practises or our hotel in Czechoslovakia after I just told you I came out of chemo?" Burns didn't say that but I expected him to and wouldn't have blamed him.
Q Can you offer any more details about your next book?
My thanks to Gare for being a good sport. When the Lights Went Out ended up being an excellent history in the world junior tournament for a relatively young guy like me, and it was helped by Joyce's uniquely personal approach to the material.
I've often complained about the dearth of quality hockey writing in bookstores, but that's certainly going to change if Joyce is going to be cranking great reads out at this pace.