Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden – With Stops Along the Way is the memoir of former professional hockey player Bill Keenan. If you’re unfamiliar with Keenan like I was, he is a retired American hockey player who played college hockey at Harvard University before injuries derailed his dreams of lifting the Stanley Cup and led him to seek a career in Europe.
Published in 2016, Odd Man Rush highlights his entire hockey career, from growing up in New York City as an admirer of New York Rangers legend Adam Graves, who writes the forward, to his sporadic career in the minor professional leagues of Belgium, Germany, and Sweden. The result is a brilliant piece of writing that leaves readers intrigued, laughing, and struggling to put the book down.
What makes Odd Man Rush so great is that Keenan is incredibly revealing and informative about what daily life is like for a player going through the less-glamorous hockey leagues of the world. It’s similar to Ken Dryden’s The Game in that it details a hockey player’s life, except that Keenan’s rendition is much more open and telling. He willingly describes for readers his experiences of playing for low budget, local hockey teams in towns he had never heard of where people almost exclusively spoke an unfamiliar language.
He details how vastly different the arenas were that he played in despite all hosting professional teams at various levels. That doesn’t even mention the extreme ends of the spectrum his living situations took on, from a dilapidated Belgian apartment shared by several teammates to a cabin on a golf course and a unit in a brand new building in Sweden. That’s why Odd Man Rush is more similar to the baseball film Bull Durham than it is The Game. It tells the common story of the average professional athlete going through the daily grind as opposed to the star player who finds success and notoriety.
What also makes Keenan’s memoir so great is that he refuses to take himself too seriously. Sure he discusses his love of the game and even informs readers about on-ice tactics and takes time throughout the book to describe passes, breakaways, and goals. However, it’s his ability to joke about himself, an underlying current of the text, that makes the book notable. He makes constant jokes about his abilities, or lack thereof, to talk to women, both in a friendly and romantic manner.
He even describes his on-ice abilities in a laughable manner, including a penalty shot attempt he had while playing in Sweden. He goes in-depth about his moves to make the goaltender bite before snapping the puck past him, even going into a dream sequence in which the crowd chants his name, only to lose control of the puck and have it slide to the boards. Keenan’s willingness to poke fun at himself in addition to his attempt to excuse his gaffe had me laughing out loud, something few books have ever done.
…I throw a series of head and shoulder fakes, hoping to force the goalie to make the first move. I hone in on his every twitch, gathering information and processing it. Just as I see him begin to slide his stick out for the poke check, I pull the trigger and snap a shot through his legs. Well, not quite…” (from Odd Man Rush, page 249).
Yet in between Keenan’s jokes and lightheartedness, a great theme develops: the fact that he’ll stop at nothing to chase down a dream that he ultimately never reached. That’s an element of life that most, if not all of us, can relate to and it’s a humbling experience to come to the realization that the ultimate goal may be unobtainable.
As I neared the book’s end and Keenan was talking about the next stop of his hockey career, I found myself not wanting his story to end. I wanted his career to continue just so I could keep reading about his on-ice play, his interactions with teammates, and his desire to immerse himself in a foreign culture. Or perhaps he will write more in the future, either on the topic of hockey or something else, but he needs to continue to write as he’s an excellent author.
I believe Odd Man Rush is a great read for anyone with an interest in hockey culture or someone who simply enjoys reading memoirs. If you fall into one of those two categories and want to learn more about hockey, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Odd Man Rush. However, be aware that Keenan is very descriptive and forthright in the retelling of his career. That means graphic language and stories, involving both hockey and life outside the game, and some parts may be inappropriate for younger readers.
*Special thanks to Bill Keenan for providing me with a copy of the book and for his ability as an excellent author