Review by Budd Bailey
The United States and Canada share three of the big four major leagues in North America: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League. As an economist would say in a silly moment, there’s something of a trade imbalance when it comes to books in the three sports. Those in Canada who seek good reading about baseball and basketball might have to go to America to expand their horizons. Meanwhile, Americans must look to the Great White North for additional reading material about hockey.
This is one of those books that headed south to be read.
James Duthie is one of those Canadian personalities who is unknown to U.S. audiences. He is one of the top stars on TSN, which is Canada’s equivalent to ESPN, more or less. Duthie has covered all sorts of big events and won awards, so he’s obviously pretty good. He also has three books to his credit. “Beauties” is No. 3 on the list, and it’s an entertaining effort.
Now let’s start with the title. It seems as if the use of “Beauty” in the sports sense is much more popular there (Canada) than here (United States). When someone makes a great play during competition, it will be described as a “beauty.” Duthie adapts that to make the word apply to hockey stories that get passed around.
With that out of the way, Duthie is off and running on a tour of hockey at all sorts of levels. He’s not looking for any particular theme. He’s simply on the outlook for something of interest. Happily, his shooting percentage is pretty good.
With that, we’re off for 300 pages. Sidney Crosby’s original hockey nickname. The joke that sparked Wayne Gretzky in the Stanley Cup Finals. A woman breaks a barrier at the NHL’s skills competition. A “stolen” Jaguar. The gold medal hockey games in 2010. An emergency goaltender’s moment of glory. A trade story gone wrong, as told by the reporter who hit the wrong button by his phone.
A rule can be applied to the material here: The longer the story, the better it probably is. When one of the tales gets close to 10 pages, you can guess it’s going to be worthwhile. You may have heard a portion of the story about Laila, a sick girl who was essentially adopted by the St. Louis Blues during their surprising and thrilling run to the Stanley Cup in 2019. The extra details provided here make it even better. Don’t be surprised if the room turns dusty.
“Jonny Hockey” has a somewhat similar arc – bring tissues – but less familiar. Jonathan Pietre was a youngster from the Ottawa area who suffered from epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a rare disease in which the skin is too thin and thus tears and blisters easily. Every day is a painful one for Jonny, but every day – as they say in hockey – he tried to take the hit and make the play. As is often said in such cases, outsiders like NHL players think they are helping him, but in reality Jonny is the one that’s helping them through better perspective and appreciation.
Not every story is overly memorable. But they all are pretty good, and some even surprising. I enjoyed Cammi Granato’s first-person account of her surprising run with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Olympics. The tale of Robert Thomas’ parents was surprisingly sweet, as they “grappled” with the problem of having an abundance of championship jerseys to hang on the wall only days (well, actually a few years, but you get the idea) after he started playing at a high level. The stories touch on major hockey, minor hockey, junior hockey, youth hockey, etc.
Books like “Beauties” serve a worthwhile purpose. They are fun to read, and don’t take a long time to finish. It’s not the type of book but that will stay in my bookcase forever, but remember that I’m an American. The Canadians out there probably will move it up higher on their reading list.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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