Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Eric Zweig

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Eric Zweig

It's hard to believe that The Great One turns 50 today! Many hockey fans still remember the night when Wayne Gretzky set the single-season goal record in 1982 like it was yesterday. Eric Zweig, author of the recently released Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals (Dundurn Press) ranks this goal — along with Henderson's 1972 goal against the Russians and Crosby's Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics — among the top twenty goals that have had a lasting impact on the history of the game. Here, Zweig tells Open Book about his criteria for choosing the goals and some of his favourite hockey moments.

Open Book:

Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals describes spectacular goals from 1896 to 2010. What criteria did you use to determine the greatest twenty goals?

Eric Zweig:

There are a lot of things that can make a goal great, but for me there’s a big difference between a goal that’s spectacular to look at one that is actually “great.” For me, what makes a goal truly great is the impact on the history of the game. Some moments have just had so great an impact that it would be impossible to leave them out of a book like this. Honestly, I probably rattled off 14 or 15 goals that had to be there within just a few minutes of deciding I was going to do this book. After that, it became a little more difficult. I’m sure my book includes a lot more from the early days of hockey than most other people would have chosen, but I love the history of the game and wanted to cover the entire history of the game. That’s one of the reasons why I was glad the book would cover the goals chronologically and not have me try and rank them.

OB:

Which of the goals in Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals do you think is the greatest of them all, and why?

EZ:

As I write in the introduction to the book, the book is called Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals, but if it only had one, it would be Paul Henderson’s goal to win the 1972 Canada–Russia Summit Series. Like so many others my age, I saw Henderson score his winning goal on television at school. (Our teacher, Ms. Tadman, actually brought a television into the classroom, so we didn’t have to crowd into the gym.) I was still four weeks shy of my ninth birthday when Henderson won that series for Canada. Until that summer, I honestly had no idea that hockey was played anywhere else in the world besides Canada and the United States. I certainly bought into the hype that we’d beat the Russians eight straight because I had no idea about their string of wins at the World Championships and Olympic Games. But, of course, if it hadn’t played out the way that it did, the series wouldn’t have been so memorable. I’m sure a big part of my life-long love of hockey was forged during those 27 days in September.

OB:

And which of the Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals will inspire the most debate?

EZ:

As I mentioned, I don’t think too many people would have chosen some of the early-era moments I’ve highlighted in the book. But I wanted to include the Stanley Cup-winning goals from 1896 and 1905 because a) they were great moments, and b) I wanted to make the point that, even though there was no TV, radio, internet or any other modern trappings, the game meant just as much to its fans in those days as it means to the fans today. Everything was on a smaller scale back then (the players themselves, the arenas, the salaries) but that doesn’t mean the fans didn’t love the game just as much as we do today.

In the introduction to the book, I tried to explain my criteria as clearly as possible, and I tried to mention as many goals as possible that were worthy contenders and why I didn’t include them. But, as I also said, half the fun of a book like this is getting people riled up about what didn’t make it!

OB:

What is the goalie's role in a spectacular goal? Is a goal still great if the goalie messed up, or does it have to be a shot that no one could have stopped?

EZ:

A few people have asked me if I’m planning to write Twenty Greatest Hockey Saves as a follow-up… but I think that would be way too difficult! No one’s ever asked about the goalie’s role in a great goal. At least one of the goals in my book (Detroit’s Tony Leswick in overtime of game seven to win the Stanley Cup in 1954) was certainly a fluky goal that went in because of a bad bounce, and that one actually focuses more on the goalie (Montreal’s Gerry McNeil, who also allowed Bill Barilko’s famous overtime winner in 1951) than any other story in the book. Perhaps it would be difficult to consider a goal truly great if it only went in because the goalie messed up. On the other hand, some of baseball’s most legendary moments occurred because of mistakes that were made…but maybe that’s not the same as being a “great” moment.

OB:

Where were you for Crosby's "Golden Goal" of the 2010 Winter Olympics? Do you think that that goal will be remembered as this generation's Henderson goal at the 1972 Summit Series?

EZ:

I was watching with a friend and his family. It was certainly a great moment, and a wonderful conclusion to the Vancouver Games, and yes, it probably will be remembered similarly to Paul Henderson by a younger generation, but the circumstances were so different that I don’t think anyone could honestly make the case that it was an equally great moment.

OB:

You have worked behind-the-scenes with both TSN and CBC. Have you been lucky enough to meet any of your hockey heroes face-to-face as a result of your work?

EZ:

My behind-the-scenes work at TSN and CBC pretty much only allowed me to meet a few TSN and CBC personalities. I’ve met a lot more hockey heroes through my brief time at the Hockey Hall of Fame and in my position with Dan Diamond & Associates, who are the consulting publishers to the NHL. One of my coolest “hero” encounters came in 2006 when I got a chance to watch a preview screening of the CBC miniseries Canada–Russia '72 at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I was sitting right behind Paul Henderson and Ron Ellis and that was a pretty amazing experience!

OB:

Your previous book, Fever Season (Dundurn Press, 2009), was a YA novel about the 1919 Spanish Flu Epidemic and the cancelled Stanley Cup season. Do you prefer writing non-fiction or fiction, and how does your writing process differ?

EZ:

I’ve written a lot more non-fiction than fiction…but both of the novels I’ve written (the first being Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada, Lester Publishing, 1992) have been based on real people and/or real events. There’s a lot of research involved (which I enjoy) so, in that sense, the process is pretty much the same for me. I have to say, though, that when I was writing Fever Season, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to make things up as I needed them and not always being so rigidly tied to events as they actually occurred.

OB:

Canadians have been hoping to get a seventh NHL team for some time now. What Canadian city do you think will be the most likely choice for a seventh team, and do you have a prediction about which American team would be relocated?

EZ:

I’d love to see the NHL return to Winnipeg and Quebec City, and it seems like the league brass might be more agreeable to that than putting a team in Hamilton and having to deal with Toronto and Buffalo’s territorial rights. Personally, I hate thinking about salary caps and the economics of sports, so I have no idea, really, if a team would be viable in either city (though the strong Canadian dollar certainly helps). As to which American team(s) might be relocated, the names that seem to come up most often these days are Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville and the Islanders, but I wouldn’t want to make any predictions…

OB:

Canadians had our hearts broken during the World Juniors gold medal match earlier this month. In your opinion, what caused the incredible breakdown in the third period that saw the Russians score five unanswered goals?

EZ:

I have to admit that I don’t watch hockey with the most critical eye and I sure didn’t see that collapse coming. I guess they got away from their game plan of taking the play to the Russians, and as people so often say, “a prevent defense (though that’s more of a football term) doesn’t prevent anything except winning.”

OB:

Do you have another hockey-related book in the works, or will you turn your attention to something completely different?

EZ:

The next book I’ll have out is another hockey-related children’s book (Hockey Trivia for Kids 3: The Stanley Cup Edition) as part of a non-fiction series I’ve done with Scholastic Canada. I’m also working on a book called Complete Hockey Records with Dan Diamond…so it looks like hockey for the foreseeable future, which, I guess, is what I do best.


Eric Zweig is managing editor with Dan Diamond & Associates, consulting publisher to the National Hockey League. His previous books include Tough Guys: Hockey Rivals in Times of War and Disaster; Crazy Canucks: The Uphill Battle of Canada's Downhill Ski Team; Star Power: The Legend and Lore of Cyclone Taylor and the teen novel Fever Season. He lives in Owen Sound, Ontario.

For more information about Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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