Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man (by Dennis Maruk with Ken Reid, foreword by Marcel Dionne, ECW Press, 320 pages, 2017)
It’s hard to imagine that a player of Dennis Maruk’s talent has been forgotten, but ask anyone to name ten 60-goal scorers in the history of the NHL, and Maruk’s name probably won’t make the list. If there is one recurring theme in Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man, it’s that it takes more than talent to succeed in the NHL; it takes luck and timing as well, and those were two things Maruk was not always blessed with. He didn’t see the NHL playoffs until his eighth season, because he was constantly saddled with teams that were rather underwhelming, whether it was the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, or pre-Rod Langway/Bryan Murray Washington Capitals. A question Maruk often asked himself during those eight long years was “This is the NHL?” and you can understand why when reading his autobiography. The Seals moved to Cleveland after his rookie season, and the Barons almost folded before their first season in Cleveland was over. When the Barons did finally close up shop, and merged with the Minnesota North Stars, Maruk played all of two games for his new club before being shipped off to Washington, who were hardly world-beaters either. That was five different cities in his first four seasons! After a few years in Washington, the Capitals almost relocated as well if not for a last-ditch save-the-franchise telethon that persuaded owner Abe Pollin it was worth staying in D.C. Even though Maruk scored 60 goals in 1981-82, he was deemed expendable just one year later, and was shipped back to Minnesota, where he finished his career playing third-line minutes. A player of his skill certainly deserved better.
This book is not just about goals, however; it is about the life of a man who not only dazzled hockey fans across North America, but who also had memorable encounters with celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, John Oates, Bruce Willis, and many others. Maruk worked a wide variety of odd-jobs after his career ended, and spent many years searching for a career that would find him happiness after the sudden end to his NHL career. In the end, it cost him two marriages as he went on a downward spiral that nearly cost him his life. Maruk is very honest about the dark places he found himself in after his hockey career ended, and he shows nothing but appreciation for the loved ones who helped him find his way again.
The book is cleverly divided into 60 chapters, one for each of the goals Maruk scored in his memorable 1981-82 season. Each of the chapters is short and sweet, making the book a quick read. Like many players, Maruk doesn’t remember many details from his career, especially the important goals he scored. What the book does contain is an interesting glimpse into what it was like to play in the NHL in the late-1970s and early-1980s. There are a few sordid tales from behind the scenes where one fellow player advised Maruk to get himself a nice hooker on the side (which he didn’t do, by the way), and there is also the story of the Cowbell Award, where players would contribute money to a pot, and the player who could get the ugliest woman in the bar to come home with him would win whatever money was collected. No one ever said the world of professional sports was squeaky clean.
While the book is very interesting, and at times eye-opening, especially when it comes to Maruk’s struggles later in life, it does not go into great detail about his relationships with teammates and coaches. There also aren’t many anecdotes concerning strange or funny events that happened during games. That being said, the book is a great read, and it should be a welcome addition to any hockey fan’s book shelf.