Colin White, Lowell MacDonald featured in book
You won’t read much about Colin White winning the Stanley Cup or Lowell MacDonald’s 500 plus games in the NHL, but you’ll find stories of how they made it to the world’s premier professional hockey league in Road to the NHL.
Both White and MacDonald are two of the 25 Maritime hockey players featured in Philip Croucher’s book that was launched Sunday in Halifax.
He was quick to point out that the book isn’t a selection of the best 25 players from the Maritimes, but a collection of players from different areas and eras. The focus of the individual stories is what each player did before making the NHL and what it took to achieve their goal.
“I put that in the preface of the book that this wasn’t meant to be a best-of book because there’s obviously some players that I left out, but the book could only be so big,” said Croucher. “We came up with a number of 25. To tell everyone’s story properly you need to set a certain number of words, so you can’t get everybody in, but I think we got a nice cross-section of players from different generations, different times, abilities, division and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
“I didn’t want it to become a book of debate. I wanted to make it a book recognizing these people’s accomplishments, sort of celebrating what they did.”
The book features seven players from New Brunswick, seven from P.E.I. and 11 from Nova Scotia. Croucher said selecting the players began with a master list, which was narrowed down by province and then regionally within each province.
Of all the players he interviewed, he said he enjoyed talking to White the most.
“I’m not just saying this, but I really enjoyed my conversation with Colin White,” said Croucher. “I thought he was really open to his road, especially talking a little bit about the struggles his family had financially in the early goings of minor hockey. I just really got a sense from him that he was so appreciative of that support he got. He’s just a really down to earth guy and he’s very proud of what he’s accomplished and where he’s come from, but he seems to be the same guy he probably was back when he was just starting out.”
Next to White’s interview, he said talking with Willie O’Ree was also special.
“The level of racism that he had to go through as a player was – he was very open with what he had to go through as a player – but then also the interesting aspect of his eye injury,” he said. “I’ve heard his story, but to hear it from him himself and how he basically played with one eye, I really remember that interview quite well.”
Road to the NHL may be Croucher’s first book, but he worked as a sports reporter for eight years before taking a position as editor of Metro Halifax. From 2000-03 he worked with the Cape Breton Post before moving to the Halifax Daily News from 2003-08. Having been away from sports writing for the last number of years, besides from the odd story, he said it was nice to get back into it and that some of the connections he made as a reporter helped him get interviews like Brad Marchand, Jody Shelley and Brad Richards.
“One thing I think that helped me with this book – because I had never written a book before – was that’s how I looked at it, as almost, like 25 different sports stories on 25 different people,” said Croucher. “I think that helped keep me focused and not be overwhelmed by the task I was taking on. The thought of writing maybe 60,000 words on one player would be very difficult, but the thought of 60,000 words on 25 players is not so daunting.”
After completing his first interview with Marchand, the publisher and Croucher met to discuss the format before continuing with remaining interviews for the book. He said the entire process took approximately two years, with the biggest challenge being getting the interviews. After completing the majority of them, he started to write.
“They have to agree to do it and some people don’t want to be interviewed,” he said. “You’re also dealing with players that are currently playing, so it can be a little bit of a problem trying to track them down because you’re going through agents and media people. Eventually you get a window of opportunity to do the interview and you do it.
“We don’t get into their careers after that. It’s sort of how they got there and when they felt that comfort factor of ‘yes, I had made it.’ I think that helped getting a lot of interviews for the book because some players may want to save that (NHL careers) for down the road.”
Before the paperback copies were printed he had only seen mockups, but never the final copy. When they were delivered to him he was proud of what his work over the two years had become.
“It was pretty cool and I really liked how the cover turned out,” said Croucher. “We had talked about putting a player on there, but I kind of like how it symbolizes the Maritimes and a little bit how in the Maritimes it’s not just one player here, it’s a lot of players. I’m glad we didn’t go that route of putting one player that symbolizes the book.
“Instead you look at it and you think of the Maritimes.”
This week The News will run a contest to give away copies of Road to the NHL. Look for details in print editions and online throughout the weekend.
Players featured in the book