Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey. By Barry Melrose, with Roger Vaughan. (2012, Toronto: Fenn/M&S. Hardcover. Pp. 240. $27.99 US / $29.99 CAN. ISBN 978-0-7710-5694-9.)
By now I am sure you have seen the Internet meme – a photo of Morgan Freeman with a sentence along the lines of “you’re probably reading this and hearing Morgan Freeman’s voice in your head.” Well, take that sentence and multiply it by a couple hundred pages and you will know what it is like to read Dropping the Gloves by Barry Melrose.
Before reading this book, I really did not have much of an opinion of Melrose either way. Since I was not nearly as involved as a hockey fan when he was a player, I do not have the memories of watching him on the ice – the majority of my experience with Melrose is as a commentator for ESPN. For me, reading this book was not only an introduction to the rest of Melrose’s career, but an interesting look at it’s evolution as well.
Dropping the Gloves is very much like sitting down with Melrose and listening to him tell stories. Aside from a bit of editorial cleanup, I would guess that the book is close to a literal transcription of Melrose relating the highlights and major turning points throughout his hockey life. From his childhood on the ice to working his way through the ranks to the NHL as a player and a coach, and finally under the studio lights at ESPN, Melrose has seen the game evolve.
I do take issue when Melrose chooses to (briefly) tackle the difficult subject of child sexual abuse. He recounts the story of Sheldon Kennedy who blew the whistle on Swift Current coach Graham James and his sexual abuse of junior players in his charge. (122) Melrose, of course, condemns James’s behavior.
However, just a few pages later, he tells of a player on his team in Medicine Hat who was subject to the sexual advances from a woman in his billet family. After learning of the situation, he “moved the kid out and dropped that couple from the billet lists.” That was an appropriate response. In the next sentence he makes light of the situation, “I’m sure that resulted in a lot of disappointed young men in junior hockey.” (127) No, Barry, abuse is abuse regardless of gender and it was irresponsible that you dealt with it differently because it was at the hand of a woman.
In my opinion, Melrose’s experiences transitioning from player to coach are some of the most insightful sections of the book. As a bonus, the final chapter contains what Melrose calls “the best guys I played with or encountered along the way” including the funniest, toughest, smartest, the best coaches, and, finally, the guy with the best nickname.
The writing is not complicated, which makes the book easy to read. Eight pages of photographs document Melrose’s career from his Foam Lake Bantam team to the 2010 Winter Classic. And you will get to learn why they called a guy in LA “Two People.”