Speaking With the Authors of Don’t Call Me Goon
The season is around the corner, but there's still plenty of time to get some summer reading in. Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen put together Don't Call Me Goon, a history and outlook of hockey's enforcers from the players' point of view.
I had a chance to ask them why and how they put their book together. If you haven't had a chance to pick up the book yet, you can enter our giveaway to win yourself a copy along with a hockeyfights.com hat.
David Singer: Why did you choose to write this book? General interest? Inspired by something? Or someone?
Richard Kamchen: Greg Oliver had written numerous professional wrestling books for ECW Press in Toronto and somehow they came up with the idea of him doing a hockey book.
Greg Oliver: Quite honestly, I had lunch with my editor and we bounced around a bunch of ideas. He encouraged me to think non-wrestling.
Kamchen: I'd written wrestling stories for Greg and I think he might have gotten the idea about a book about enforcers when he saw all my hockey fights posts on my Facebook page. But from those videos and possibly because he thought I could handle co-writing duties (and perhaps because no one else was available!), Greg tapped me to come on board.
Oliver: I don't remember a book on fighters being talked of in specifics at my lunch, but somehow thinking about things at home clarified the idea, and Richard indeed seemed like a good fit. I knew that he had had some trials and tribulations in his life and deserved a break -- and had the time to work on it.
Kamchen: But for my own interest... Body checking and fighting got me interested in the game. When I was a kid, the local TV routinely showed the Oilers playing ticktacktoe against the hapless Jets* and I had no interest in watching that kind of humiliation. It bored me, quite frankly. But by accident, I once happened upon a "Chuck" Norris division match up on Hockey Night in Canada one fateful Saturday, and that was all it took. Guys hammering each other into the boards and punching each other in the face? Forget about it. I was hooked. Getting to write a book about that? A dream.
Oliver: We used to go to Maple Leaf Gardens every year for my birthday in February. Of all the games that I saw as a youth, it was a massive bench-clearing brawl between the Blues and Leafs that has stuck with me all my years. My Dad and I were in the golds, right next to the mayhem, but my two buddies, up in the greys at the top of the building raved like they'd seen the greatest thing ever.
Singer: What was the general reaction of the players you interviewed? Were they hesitant to speak about anything?
Kamchen: The guys who appear on the pages were great. Todd Ewen was fantastically open and had great stories. Jay Miller and Lyndon Byers were hilarious. Georges Laraque took the time to talk even though he was working on his own book -- something that discouraged some others from talking. Tony Twist, I think, could talk all day about his role and how he worked to perfect what he did. Wilfie Paiement was a lot of fun -- almost avuncular, totally unlike the intimidating guy you saw on the ice. But he was hesitant to talk about his stick-swinging incident with Dennis Polonich. Sometimes we just don't want to relive those darker parts of our past I suppose.
Jimmy Mann, another great interview and help, didn't seem to have any qualms about talking about his incident with Gardener. I think he felt it was a justified attack! And he seemed genuinely annoyed that the provincial attorney general stuck his nose into his business!
Oliver: We batted around a ton of names, and a lot of who ended up in the book was a result of who we did get to talk to. Essentially, it broke down that I did all the oldtimers, and three of the four current fighters. My only really big "get" in the meat of the book was Larry Playfair, who initially had trust issues but later ended up thanking me for being so respectful and fair about his role as an enforcer/defenceman. He committed to buying copies for all of his family, and helped me get some Buffalo-area media too.
Kamchen: But of course there were some fellows who I suppose didn't want to relive those days, especially with someone they'd never heard of before. Certainly, there are guys from the '70s who are suffering, not only from the physical toll of the game, but from the way the union has forgotten about them.
The fact the guys who did talk to us were so willing to have long chats with a couple unknowns -- Stu Grimson talked on the phone for like an hour as he drove his kids to their practice or game -- just makes me love 'em that much more. Danny Maloney -- another guy -- he still works after all these years, and he still gave me plenty of time. Outstanding. A lot of fun talking to Dave Manson too -- one of the first guys to catch my eye watching those Chuck Norris clubs. A former Jet to boot. That calm, even gravelly voice. Oh, and how do I forget meeting Curt Keilback in person, the former great voice of the Jets, at a Winnipeg staple like Salisbury House restaurant? And he's still got that million dollar voice that causes people to turn their heads and want to talk hockey.
Oliver: It's worth stating that we got some nice notes back too from people not around any longer, like from the family of Reggie Fleming.
Singer: How did you choose the format of the book?
Oliver: The format is really based on what I've done with the four different books in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame series -- The Canadians, The Tag Teams, The Heels, and Heroes & Icons. The idea is that you are the conduit to letting the players (or wrestler) tell their story. Statistics bore the hell out of me, so let's hear what happened from the people who were there!
Singer: What has been the reception since it’s been released? What sort of feedback have you received?
Oliver: That moment we made the bestseller list with the Globe & Mail newspaper was one that will live with me for a long time, and was immediate vindication that I was a good writer and that the wrestling books just never caught on with a mainstream audience. The capper for me though was Brian McGrattan having his home featured on some webcast in Calgary, and there's our book; he showed it off and complained about eating a punch on the cover!
Kamchen: By far the positives have overshadowed any negatives. I actually thought there'd be more pious criticism about a book that doesn't knock fighting and in fact celebrates it in a lot of ways. Maybe the soap boxers were too occupied preaching their message to take a lot of notice?
Oliver: I did think there would be more media and reviews than there were; I did my first TV appearance in November 2013 (cementing my belief that the Nashville Predators are a first-class organization, which has only continued since then), and then nothing else until April 2014. Weird.
Thanks again to Greg and Richard for taking the time to answer my questions. They've paired up for another hockey book: it's called The Goaltenders’ Union: Hockey’s Greatest Puckstoppers, Acrobats, and Flakes, and is available at ECW, Amazon**, and through all traditional booksellers.
* Links to the original Jets
** All Amazon links in this article are affiliate links