Journeyman’s tale leaves it all on the ice
FOR those who just can’t wait for NHL hockey’s regular season to get cracking again, David Ward’s The Lost 10 Point Night: Searching for my Hockey Hero Jim Harrison provides a quick, satisfying read to tide you over until the puck drops, with food for thought on the side. From the get-go, Ward sets his sights on crafting a hockey tale in the tradition of Stephen Brunt’s Searching for Bobby Orr and Gretzky’s Tears. And while he never quite hits that mark, Ward gives it a good go, leaving it all on the ice for the reader. Ward’s subject, 1970s pro/third-line centreman Jim Harrison, may not be a household name like the great numbers 4 or 99. Nevertheless, Ward manages to craft an engaging portrait of a man who played the game with the best, yet remains mostly forgotten. In that, The Lost 10 Point Night shares more in common with Dave Bidini’s The Best Game You Can Name than Brunt’s two contemporary hockey classics. Both Ward and Bidini’s books tackle the subject of the journeymen of the sport rather than superstars, shedding light on the unglamorous life of a professional hockey grinder in the 1970s. The long hours of travel, the half-assed nature of some flyby-night organizations in the upstart World Hockey Association, and what passed for “professional” medical attention in the Slap Shot era of hockey’s history are all covered. So is the dressing-room camaraderie and the (over-) reliance on booze many turned to when facing off against hard times. A product of the Estevan, Sask., junior hockey system, Jim Harrison played for the NHL’s Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Black Hawks and (very briefly) Edmonton Oilers. He was a member of the 1974 Team Canada squad and the WHA’s Alberta Oilers and Cleveland Crusaders before chronic back pain forced him to retire from hockey in 1980. It was with the Alberta Oilers, in 1973, that he recorded professional hockey’s first 10-point game, a record matched only by former Maple Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler in 1976. However, Sittler’s record is the one that stands officially in the NHL record books, an “injustice” that offers Ward a launching pad to delve into the life of his “hockey hero.” The injustices Harrison faced in the hockey world aren’t confined strictly to the record books. Harrison was a client of notorious scam-artist Alan Eagleson, who masterminded the 1972 Summit Series and helmed the NHL Players’ Association. Harrison pulls no punches when speaking about his feelings for Eagleson or the NHLPA. Early on in their relationship, Harrison tells Ward that he doesn’t “want to come across as a whiner or complainer.” And while Harrison has plenty to call the NHLPA to task for, the lack of any official word or counter-statement from the Players’ Association or those outside the Harrison camp do leave the narrative feeling somewhat one-sided. Ward uses first-person interviews with Harrison and a swath of players who came up with him through junior and the bigs, mixed with the author’s own (sometimesawkward) personal reflections and memories of the game he grew up with. In this way, The Lost 10 Point Night is once again reminiscent of Bidini, and in particular his latest, Keon & Me, which mines the same era. At the end of the day, The Lost 10 Point Night is an engaging, endearing read that sheds welcome light into some of the darker corners of professional hockey. Ward presents readers with a compassionate portrait of his “hockey hero” that’s both insightful and entertaining. Like its subject, The Lost 10 Point Night might not go down as one of the greats of the game. But Ward proves he can at least take a wild stab at it, and deliver a couple good shots in the process. Sheldon Birnie is a Winnipeg writer, editor and third-line beer-league hockey grinder.
The Lost 10 Point Night: Searching for My Hockey Hero Jim