Lions in Winter

by Chrys Goyens, Allan Turowetz
440 pages,
ISBN: 013537457X

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Habs and have-nots
by Jack Batten

I remember when I was a Toronto Maple Leaf fan. Just barely. It was back in the years when Cone Smythe ran things at Maple Leaf Gardens, when the Gardens was is the exactly correct words of Peter Growski's 1964 description "kept just a trifle cleaner than St. Tames Cathedral," when the Leaf organization scouted out talented players and hung on to them, when Toronto meant Ted Kennedy sad Syl Apps and, later, Dave Keon and Frank Mahovich, when the Leafs won Stanley Cups and, more to the point perhaps, when Toronto hockey meant classy people. I'm talking about the years before Harold Bollard came along and ruined everything. Hello Harold, goodbye class.
I raise this dirty bit of personal history as part of the explanation for the emotion that Lions in Winter drew out of me. Jealousy. I felt envious when I read the book. In the good old days when Conn Scythe generated pride and Stanley Cups and Punch Imlach did his share of the same accomplishments, the Montreal Canadiens were to us Leaf fans the Other Guys. The Canadiens won a share of Stanley Cups - so did the Detroit Reed Wings of Lindsay, Abel, and Howe but they had to beat the Leafs to get there, and just as often, the Leafs whipped the Canadiens.
But over the last 20 years, roughly the Bollard period, Montreal has kept on winning and Toronto has faded from the picture. For contemporary Montreal fans, the Leafs aren't even the Other Guys. That role is filled by Oilers and Islanders and Flyers, teams that hadn't been conceived is Conn Smythe's time, and the Leafs are nowhere. What's an old Leaf fan to do? If he's like me, he slinks away and adopts as his home team the Boston Celtics of the NBA, another city and another sport.
Lions in Winter manages 4 thorough job of demonstrating the ways in which the Canadlens have kept their class sad pride and success over the years. There have been changes of ownership and management, coaching switches, even a few brief periods when the organisation seemed in disarray, but at all tunes the men in the offices and the players on the ice maintained a sense of team tradition.
The book examines the different styles of men like Frank Selke sad Toe Blake, Sam Politick and Scotty Bowman, and explains how and why a sense of continuity persisted through their differences. And it traces the varying temperaments and approaches to the game of the Canadian stars. The Rocket is featured and dean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur and a few of the others, Howie Morenz and Larry Robinson.
It's stirring stuff, the tales of - OK the best of alt hockey teams. But a couple of things crake the book less than classic. One is the writing style. This is not a book to put on your shelf alongside Roger Angeli's baseball books or Frank Deford's tennis boobs or, in hockey. Peter Gzowski's book about the Edmonton Oilers or anything by Scott Young. The writing is Lions in Winter doesn't qualify for that league. It's a mix of sports-page journalese and slightly pompous sociological musing. That's not terrible. It's enough to keep you flipping the pages. But it isn't exactly Herbert Warren Wind either.
The other thing that's wrong with the book is that the two guys who wrote it are passionate Canadiens fans. Chrys Goyens is a sportswriter and Allan Turowetz is a sports sociologist. Those credentials explain the book's scrappy writing, but it doesn't explain its unblinkered approach to the subject. According to Goyens and Turowetz, Jean Beliveau has lived a life without flaw and all the other Canadiens fall into the same Olympian category except, just maybe, Guy Lafleur, who was known to take a drink or two. These guys are pure and gentlemanly and upright and citizens beyond reproach. And it's nauseating to read about them.
Of course there's an explanation for this reaction of mine to the book and its subjects. I'm jealous. What else?

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