For hockey fans who consider the game of yore to have been less prone to cheap shots and hooliganism and more gentlemanly than today’s version, C. Michael Hiam’s new biography of Saskatchewan-born bruiser Eddie Shore should serve as a healthy corrective. Much of this chronicle of the life and times of the legendary Boston Bruins defenceman, and his journey from the Canadian prairies to the Stanley Cup in the 1920s and ’30s, is a catalogue of puck-related carnage, both taken and dished out. (Fans once sang: “Here comes Shore / Watch the gore / Hear the roar / They want gore.”)
Shore’s electrifying rushes, fanatical training techniques, bull-like strength, and merciless fists were matched, later, by his parsimonious business ways and tyrannical coaching methods as an owner of the minor-league Springfield Indians. Without a doubt, Shore is one of hockey’s most intriguing characters.
Yet this book scores only in its opening and closing periods. For vast swathes in between, it gets bogged down in game-related minutiae and the blood-spattered accounting of stitches received, blows rained down upon opponents’ heads, the spitting out of teeth, and the breaking of bones. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of culling hundreds of game reports from the newspapers of the day, but we get it: hockey is a tough game played by some of the toughest customers around. As readers, we want more.
Fortunately, the book delivers in chronicling Shore’s youth as a rancher for his well-to-do businessman father. It doesn’t, however, delve into the effect his father’s suicide (following the collapse of an investment on which he literally bet the ranch) might have had on the energy, anger, and perfectionism with which Eddie lived his life and played the game.
The last third of the book is peppered with fascinating anecdotes of Shore’s unorthodox training methods, such as not allowing slap shots or tying his players’ elbows behind their backs to teach them the right arm position for skating. It’s unfortunate that such depth and detail is not consistent throughout the book. This book contains a great deal about the player, but little about the man.