Friday 17 April 2020

Black Ice - Val James

Black Ice The Val James Story
Valmore James and John Gallagher
ECW Press
ISBN 9781770412019
eISBN 9781770906570

I do not recall either of Val’s stints in the NHL. Growing up I was a Habs fan and my grandfather cheered for the Leaf’s and my father Chicago. And back then you got the games on CBC or listened in French. I spent about a half hour with Val in his current life. He was so outgoing and engaging I tracked down the book to read and review.

I am very thankful to have read this book. When I was in university, I had a black roommate who played football. He shared a few of his Father’s stories from the same era when Val played hockey. The book is often raw, at times emotional and very honest. Val captures his life in sports. He captures the racism he encountered. And he captured the lasting impact, some of which was only released by writing this book.

Over the years I have read biographies of several hockey players, and some pro wrestlers. Including Tie Domi, Wendel Clark, Kelly Hrudey and more, and none of them were as intense of this story. Val writes about the victories, the failures and the constant change. He played in 7 leagues and for 11 teams over 16 seasons. He was drafted 184 in round 16 of the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft. His two stints in the NHl were in the 1981-82 season for the Buffalo sabres and the 1986-1987 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the leagues with states he racked up 1371 regular season penalty minutes and 296 playoff minutes. He was the first American born black NHL player and the first black player to dress for the Maple Leafs. He was the first in a lot of leagues and towns he played in.

One of the greatest sections in this volume is towards the end where numerous people share their impressions, experience and memories of Val on and off the ice. The testimonies from players, coaches, refs and even opponents speak to the character of the man.

Val would never take advantage of an opponent once they were down, no sucker punches, no dirty stick work. But if you used racial slurs or went after his teammates you would pay a heavy price. There are two different stories of him ripping out the divider between penalty boxes to finish the fight.

I picked up this book to read after meeting Val. He is one of the most joyful and encouraging people I have ever met. It was fantastic to spend a brief amount of time with him. My son who is twelve was interested in reading this after me. But It is not appropriate for his age. There are a few trysts recalled that I just do not want my son reading.

But it is a fascinating read. And I am thankful to have encountered the man and to have read the book.

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