Recently, just for you, my dear comrades, I read Ross Bernstein's The Code.
Let me preface this entry by saying, if you are looking for an eloquent, well-written account of the role of the enforcer in the NHL, you will not find it in this book. If you are an English professor or a Pulitzer Prize winner, you will cringe in horror. Any book that uses the phrase "by virtue of the fact that" is not well-written, in my opinion. AND MY OPINION IS THE ONLY ONE THAT MATTERS. Learn it, live it. However, I am a fascist when it comes to grammar and usage and concise writing, so the rest of you might not suffer as I did.
Caveat before we get this party started: the book, sadly, does not have an index. I'm only going to look up the important stuff, so if I start talking vaguely on a subject, curse the missing index, not the writer. Curse me, too, if you like. I'm cool.
Now that I have taken care of business, I will say the book had good information about the hockey enforcer and the code. If you are not a literature snob (or if you are, but are simultaneously a hockey freak), I would certainly suggest reading it. There are multitudes of interviews from enforcers of the past and present era, which I feel adds the most value to the book. I was afraid, considering Bernstein is a Minnesota resident (and I'm sure he's a Gopher fan), the book would contain a little too much homer-ism, but I felt like the Minnesota references weren't overpowering. If you read the book through a homeristic lens (w00t! I invented a word!), you will find traces of a bias. Obviously, a book about fighting can't exclude Basil McRae, Shane Churla, and a passing mention of Derek Boogaard (only passing because I believe you can't write definitively about the present situation), but there certainly are hints of Gopherism. There are quotations from One-Eyed Sonmor (yes, yes, I know, he was also a North Stars player and coach, and he is mentioned in the chapter on visors and face shields, which is totally relevant), Lou Nanne (who argues against fighting in the NHL. Not surprising.), and Neal Broten, but I can deal. Former Bulldog Brett Hull is also interviewed, so that gives a little balance.
I certainly enjoyed the interview with NHL and WCHA alumnus Mike Peluso, who straight up made me laugh. I rarely laugh audibly when reading, but when Mike started talking about the "football numbers," the high jersey numbers given to training camp invitees, I was chuckling to myself. I was roaring when I read parts of the interview with Paul Stewart, who describes chasing Bob Schmautz with a putter during a celebrity golf tournament, in an attempt to avenge an incident years prior where Schmautz tried to spear Stewart in the eye. Stewart actually called out Schmautz in his excerpt, which is comedy gold. Yes, I know, I am the lowest common denominator, I am what is wrong with the world today. Sue me, I was laughing.
Violence is never funny, kids.
Speaking of kids, toward the end, the book explores the message fighting sends to the children of players, youth hockey players, and young fans of the sport. The discussion forces Bernstein to backtrack on the previous sections of the book. At the beginning, the author almost reveres fighting, portraying fighters as the ultimate team players and heroes of sorts. Then, once he brings up the impact of fighting on children, Bernstein faces about and begins to sound like he opposes fighting. The change in tone leaves the reader unsure of the author's actual viewpoint. It was like listening to a politician. Not to worry, because I still like fighting, and I'm pretty sure the author likes fighting, too, but not in youth hockey. I don't want to see fighting in mini-mites, either. Those would be the shortest fights ever, since both parties would be flat on their faces seconds after trying to take a swing at the other. I paid for blood.
Back to my old pal Paul Stewart, I enjoyed what he had to say regarding the Bertuzzi Incident, as that melodrama is referred to in the book. Generally, I replace Incident with Sucker-Punch, but I don't have to be diplomatic. Stewart implies Brad May (then with Vancouver, now with the Dirty Ducks) couldn't hold a candle to Tie Domi (duh!) and flat-out calls Steve Moore (Bertuzzi's victim, remember?) a "no-name." I think Paul Stewart and I are kindred souls. Paul, call me, we'll do lunch. On you.
It was informative to hear the players' opinions on tBI, and it's important for people to know the entire scope of the situation, stemming from Steve Moore's hit on Markus Naslund that knocked Naslund unconscious (I hate Naslund) weeks before tBI occurred. I do have to laugh at the foreword and interviews with another player, Marty McSorley. McSorley channels the Klingon Empire with all his talk of duty, loyalty and, most of all, honor. Yet, there is a section in one of the chapters on the McSorley Incident, which the author calls one of "the two most notorious incidents" in the past three decades of hockey. (The other incident is the aforementioned Bertuzzi Incident, but if I had to tell you that, I fear for your future.) Oh, Marty, there is no honor in sticking Brashear in the face. What Would Worf Do?
(photo courtesy of TSN, obvs.)
(Granted, I would like to hit Brashear with my stick, too, but I wouldn't hit him in the face, for crying out loud, and I would come out and say "Hell yeah I did it, he had it coming!") When there is an entire Incident (capital I!) named after you, your integrity is a bit questionable.
I suppose my biggest problem with the book is, it could have been written in about one-third as many pages. A lot of the information is repetitive. For example, in the chapter "What Prompts Dropping the Gloves?," Bernstein lists "the top ten reasons gloves are dropped in professional hockey." I do realize 10 is a nice, round number, and its paralleling Letterman's lists, but "Bad Blood," "Retaliation and Retribution," and "Sending a Message" could all be covered in the same paragraph, as could "Intimidation" and "Deterrence." I get the concept of the code. I got it beforehand, and I certainly could not forget it now. The book repeats itself so many times, you could be so dumb that only Texas would execute you, and you would still understand the concept after reading this book (or having the book read to you, if you were really that dumb.)
Bottom Line: Read it for the anecdotes, read it for the inside information. It's worth it, and you'll enjoy watching hockey even more.