When local journalist Phil Croucher sat down to write his new book The Road to the NHL (MacIntyre Purcell Publishing), he knew he wasn’t going to make everyone happy. In it, he tells the stories of 25 Maritime hockey players who made it to the NHL. “I wanted to be fair regionally,” he explains. “I didn’t want an overabundance of Nova Scotians…There’s been a bit of debate about who I picked. It’s not meant to be disrespectful to anyone to leave them out. These are 25 stories, telling different sides of the game. They’re not necessarily the best of the best.”
Croucher’s careful attention to balance is this book’s strength, as he tells the 25 stories. In addition to geographic diversity, he carefully documents hockey’s different eras. “I definitely wanted to make sure there were some current guys,” he says. “Brad Marchand doesn’t have the same resume as some of these guys, but I wanted younger readers to be able to relate too. And Marchand’s path certainly isn’t the same as Forbes Kennedy’s in the 1950s…. And while they read about Brad Marchand, they get to learn about guys they’ve never heard of.”
He also took care to maintain journalistic balance, refusing to succumb to the gushiness that often mars this sort of sports writing. “It’s not so much about hockey as it is the journey,” he says. “They’re really human-interest stories. We’re talking about guys leaving home at age 16, that’s tough. There’s a lot of twists and turns around the way.”
He does have his favourites, though. “Jody Shelley is one,” he says. “I grew up a Mooseheads fan. To watch him then and now see where he is, and get to interview him about those days is cool. He’s one of the first Mooseheads to make the NHL.”
Another is trailblazing Boston Bruin Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player. “His was a story I’d heard and I knew we’d be talking about him a lot,” Crocher says. “But to actually hear him talking about it is incredible—there’s no animosity for what he went through. He said ‘I’d do it all over again.’”
And for Croucher, the great thing about writing a book like this is that there’s no shortage of fodder for future editions. “I’m not sure what I’ll do next but there are a lot more stories to tell,” he says. “When I wrote it, Nathan MacKinnon was still playing junior, but obviously he could be in the next volume.”
Croucher will be signing the book on December 7 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Coles at the Halifax Shopping Centre and 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Chapters Bayers Lake.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave incorrect times for the book signings. The information above is correct. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.