Monday, January 21, 2008

Scribblings of the Scribes of Sport: Gare Joyce's Future Greats and Heartbreaks

Seeing as there are so many quality sports writers out there these days, and many of them are producing fine books, I figured I’d start occasional posts about the best works by sporting journalists I’ve read recently. To start it off, there’s Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce, which I received for Christmas and promptly read in the next couple days: it's very difficult to put down. The book provides a fantastic look at the profession of hockey scouts with a good deal of access from the inside, as Joyce was able to sit in on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2006 draft preparations and was involved with much of their subsequent scouting season. There are also interesting takes on a variety of other topics related to junior hockey, such as the tragic Swift Current Broncos bus crash of 1986, the world junior championships, and the players who never make it to the big leagues.

Another thing that helps this book excel is Joyce’s terrific writing talent. As established in his previous hockey book, When the Lights Went Out (a retrospective on the infamous Canada-USSR brawl at the 1987 World Juniors), the man knows how to tell a story. Despite the meandering path Joyce’s journeys in the footsteps of NHL scouts take him on, he is able to maintain a strong thematic continuity and spin a cohesive narrative out of what could have been a chaotic tale in the hands of a lesser writer.

The Columbus draft war room deliberations form a particularly interesting segment of the book, giving a great amount of insight into how NHL teams decide who to pick where. I found it especially surprising that so little credence is given to Central Scouting’s final rankings, which many in the media often speak of as indisputable. As Joyce points out, each team has their own list, and they frequently differ substantially from the consensus rankings. Joyce also makes a good point: in the end, it doesn’t matter if you got a player far below where you had him ranked if he doesn’t pan out.

Future Greats and Heartbreaks is a remarkable work. There’s far too little written about the scouting profession, which after all, is responsible for both the players who become stars and those who fail spectacularly. This book is a great addition to the realm of hockey literature, and exposes a side of the game many have never seen.

- Alanah has a great interview with Joyce from when the book first came out. Some fascinating stuff here, particularly on Steve Downie and Alexei Cherepanov.
- Joyce's own companion blog to the book. Interesting stuff here includes apiece he wrote on scouting for the Globe and Mail, a neat tale about what scouts get up to away from the rink, an introduction to the book's major characters, and an Edmonton Journal review of the book that touches on some of the other cool aspects and people I haven't mentioned, like Joyce's interview with Akim Aliu.
- Another review of the book by Joe Pelletier of, touching on some topics I hadn't thought of, such as if Columbus being the only organization that gave Joyce full access skewed his results in favour of their scouting model.

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