The Code is another one of those books that is deemed a “must read” for hockey fans. The hockey world is much different down on the ice, and as fans the only way to understand that world is to hear about it from others. Earlier I read The Game, which put you inside the head of Ken Dryden, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. Today we will talk about the world of hockey enforcers.
Ross Bernstein’s The Code was an interesting look at the history of fighting in hockey, its impact and importance within the game, and how economics and the lockout have effected fighting. Bernstein talked at length within the book’s 22 chapters, but he also interviewed many enforcers and journalists, letting them tell their own stories about “The Code” and the game of hockey.
The player interviews are certainly the highlight of the work. Hearing from guys like Tony Twist, Marty McSorley, and Rob Ray was about as enlightening as you could manage when talking to so called “goons”. By far the best interview Bernstein conducted was with Paul Stewart, a former hockey enforcer who retired and became an NHL official. What better view of The Code than from someone who lived by it and then had to work alongside it?
For me this was the highlight of the book. Here’s Paul Stewart talking about revenge:
“Revenge in hockey can be a b#$ch. I still owe Bob Schmautz for trying to spear me in the eye in Colorado one night. I had hit him with a beautiful elbow right in the chest, which knocked the wind out of him. I could have taken his chin off, but I didn’t. So he came back at me with his stick, and we got into a stick fight. It was ugly. I even went after him years later at a celebrity golf tournament up in Pawtucket with a putter one time. Milt Schmidt had to get between us that afternoon, and it was a good thing he was there or that could have gotten ugly, too. I said, “You haven’t got a stick now, how tough are you?” He was a gutless puke. He had no code and no honor. Hey, Schmautz-and you can put this in the book, too-anytime, anyplace. I’m ready for you.”
Some of the stories are downright hilarious, with Rob Ray telling parents how to raise their children, Stewart punching a player trying to break up a fight, and Dave Hanson pulling off Bobby Hull’s wig.
Overall I think Bernstien did a good job putting the material together. He tried to cover all aspects of the code, as well as what fighting has done to the game and the public’s perception of it. He made sure to give both sides of the pro/anti fighting argument, even if that meant E.J. Hradek was involved.
While the material was good and I would recommend any hockey fan give it a try, I was a bit disappointed in Bernstien’s writing. It was an odd mix of writing styles, and I have to admit I’m not familiar with much else of his writing, so I’m not sure if that is his style of if he was trying too hard.
At times the book read like an elongated term paper. While there were many cited sections in the appendix, there were many generalizations or points he tried to make that were just ramblings. It wasn’t bad writing, just awkward, especially when he tried to use secular terms. I think he actually tried too hard to be “ordinary” with his style, using terms such as “S.O.B.” or “mug” when referring to someone’s face. It wasn’t bad, just… clumsy, and something that tripped me up at times.
A perfect example of this was on page 209, when Bernstien was talking about violence on the junior level. One fight between two parents ended up with one man dying. Bernstein said, “One man died after being assaulted, and the other get ten years in the joint for manslaughter.” Really? Joint? For such a serious topic, the colloquial terms didn’t add anything to the material.
Again, this isn’t a criticism of the book as much as the style it was presented in. The material was excellent, the interviews were great, and the book itself brought up a number of great questions regarding fighting and violence in hockey. A simple matter of diction doesn’t matter in the face of all that.
The main point of the book was to give its readers the option: to fight or not to fighting? I have always been a proponent of fighting in hockey, and after reading I only reinforced my views on the matter. There is a reason for fighting in the game, and no matter what impression it gives to outsiders, the purpose overrides the negativity associated with it.
Reading has also given me a new view of Andrew Peters. I think looking over his actions and his role is important in determining his utility. He is a bad fighter and not a two way player, and I don’t think he follows the code. (We’ve seen him turtle before…) However, we currently don’t have a better option, and until we trade for Georges Laroque (could have signed him this summer…) we will have to keep him around.
God, that’s depressing.
Any thoughts on fighting, Peters, and Rob Ray in the comments.