Shortlisted, Toronto Book Awards
On May 2, 1967, Montreal and Toronto faced each other in a battle for hockey supremacy. This was only the fifth time the teams had ever played each other in the Stanley Cup finals. Toronto led the series 3-2.
But this wasn't simply a game. From the moment Foster Hewitt announced "Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States," the game became a turning point in sports history. That night, the Leafs would win the Cup. The next season, the National Hockey League would expand to twelve teams. Players would form an association to begin collective bargaining. Hockey would become big business. The NHL of the "Original Six" would be a thing of the past.
It was The Last Hockey Game.
Placing us in the announcers' booth, in the seats of excited fans, and in the skates of the players, Bruce McDougall scores with a spectacular account of every facet of that final fateful match. As we meet players such as Gump Worsley, Tim Horton, Terry Sawchuk, and Eddie Shack, as well as coaches, owners, and fans, The Last Hockey Game becomes more than a story of a game. It also becomes an elegy, a lament for an age when, for all its many problems, the game was played for the love of it.
The decisive sixth game of the 1967 Stanley Cup final between the victorious Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens provides the focal point for this vivid, well-researched analysis of the then-impending cultural and commercial transformation of the National Hockey League. Longtime Canadian business writer McDougall (Ted Rogers) implies nostalgia with his title but is unflinching in his depiction of the rigors of old-time hockey, embodied in Leafs goalie Terry Sawchuk s habit of keeping and displaying his lost teeth and bone chips. Skillfully juxtaposed anecdotes illustrate the differences between the personalities of the Montreal and Toronto organizations, the standard-bearers for French Canada and English Canada respectively: pre-game, Montreal coach Toe Blake told his players to give their best, while Toronto coach Punch Imlach threw $1,000 on the dressing room floor and said, This is what you re playing for. The league s subsequent expansion from six teams to 12 and the creation of the NHL Players Association would make money more of a focus than ever. Primarily catering to hardcore hockey fans, McDougall occasionally goes overboard with details, like offering mathematical proof that the 67 Leafs had greater experience than the Canadiens. Yet he succeeds in showing how players loved the game in an era when it was all they had.