If there is just one hockey book you buy this holiday season - and the way people feel about the locked-out NHL right now, maybe even one is too much - it should be Journeyman by former NHLer Sean Pronger.
Mr. Pronger, of course, has nothing to do with the lockout, so please don't take any anger at the owners and players out on him. Indeed, Pronger himself has plenty of bumps and bruises from his NHL career, both literally and figuratively, as he was the lesser talented of the two brothers who came out of the northern Ontario town of Dryden to play professional hockey.
Little brother Chris will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame some day but, as they say, the only way Sean Pronger gets in is to buy a ticket. But that is why Journeyman, published by Viking, is such a terrific book.
It is the unvarnished account of Sean Pronger's life as an itinerant hockey player with stops in the NHL (260 games with seven teams from 1995 to 2003), three minor leagues and an unhappy final season in Germany. Most of the hockey talent in the Pronger family may have landed with Chris but Sean is an engaging story-teller who gives the reader an inside look at professional hockey.
Pronger's intermittent life in the NHL was spent wondering a) whether he would get into the lineup for that night's game or b) when the inevitable call would come to head back to the minor leagues. He was never one of those millionaires squabbling with the owners over how to slice a billion-dollar pie. He spent his eight years around the NHL scrambling for a few crumbs from that pie.
But the experience never soured him and Pronger's love for the game shines through the book. He even professes to still like former Columbus Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean, who sent him back and forth from the NHL to the American Hockey League seven times one season.
"Well, he was one of those bubble guys," MacLean, who is now a broadcaster for Sportsnet, said on his Fan 590 radio show Hockey Central this week when Pronger made an appearance to plug his book.
Fans think of NHL players as an elite few who travel first class on charter planes, stay at the best hotels and toil for just a few hours in front of thousands of adoring fans while raking in millions of dollars. Pronger, with the help of co-author Dan Murphy, readily admits that is the case for some guys but he tells us about the majority of athletic working stiffs who make up the other side of the coin. He dedicated the book "to all journeymen everywhere. Keep fighting the good fight."
There are stories of the constant highs and lows of being in the NHL one day, the minors the next and the resulting toll it takes on a player's family. And there are lots of stories about Pronger's long list of rollicking teammates and their misadventures.
Such as the time he realized a dream and was put on Wayne Gretzky's line during a brief stay with the New York Rangers. The only trouble was, Pronger's frustration at sitting out most nights finally led to a long night on the town that left him sleep-deprived and mightily hung over for his big moment at the next morning's practice.
For a true look at what life is like at every level of professional hockey, this is the book to buy.