Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown

McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown with David Naylor offers up 100 mini essays on some of the most common and divisive topics that spark discussion amongst hockey fans. It is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable hockey books that I have read in a long while.

Are all these arguments completely original thoughts put together by McCown and Naylor? I doubt it. Many of the arguments contain ideas I've been reading on discussion boards for years. But here they are more fully developed and fleshed out with numerous angles. All synthesized in one location, it makes for very good reading.

Some of the very arguments McCown preaches are ones that I've written about in this blog. Most of these are not arguments in the way that the word normally conveys. They are points of view strongly and convincingly delivered. In the instances where the opposing view on a topic is presented, it is sometimes weak and often veers into straw-man territory. But that doesn't really matter in a book like this. The entertainment value is in the different angles and the dismissive sneering asides about anyone who would dare to hold an opposing viewpoint.

But McCown also offers up compelling and nuanced arguments on numerous hockey-related topics that you may have never considered before. Like all good analysis, there are plenty of patterns highlighted and underlying rationales plainly and logically explained. In the way that a person who is knowledgeable about a subject makes something seem so eminently obvious that you're left wondering why the hell you didn't make the observation yourself. In fact, I can guarantee that within a week or so of reading this book, you will find yourself involved in a hockey debate and repeating McCown's words. Pray that it is with someone who thinks that Don Cherry is the last word on any hockey discussion.

McCown hammers the moronic non-arguments put forward by many of the mouth breathers who enjoy the sadistic side of the sport. He beautifully rips Cherry on numerous occasions and labels followers of the clown as "Cherry's disciples." Not that Cherry or anyone who supports his viewpoints ever offers up a rational or defensible argument, but McCown does such a perfect job of demolishing their absurd claims that they will likely splutter and experience more angst than usual when someone bashes their circular nonsense.

McCown presents a few different types of arguments in the book. Discussions of who was the greatest player (at various positions, during different eras, and of all time) team, and dynasty are some of the best. These are the instances where McCown presents evidence for all sides and then weighs in with his final decision. Discussions about the NHL during different eras rate the competitive and entertainment levels of each. The issues arguments—many of which are about violence or other odd, antiquated aspects of the game— are also very compelling.

And McCown offers interesting perspectives on claims that have become such clich├ęs over the years that no one really stops to consider their validity. For example, in argument number 54, McCown takes on the declaration that "Canada is easily the greatest hockey nation on earth." He doesn't disagree with that statement, but instead explains why Canadians would have to be ashamed if it were any other way.
Consider that for a population of roughly 33 million people, Canada has 3,000 indoor rinks and another 11,100 outdoor rinks. That's one rink for every 2,357 Canadians. It's an astounding ratio when you think of it. In fact, we have a lot more rinks per person than we do hospitals.

Second on that list would be the United States with its 2,400 rinks, 2,000 of which are located indoors. On a per-capita basis, you're talking about one rink for every 123, 000 Americans.

The rest of the world doesn't even come close. According to the IIHF, Sweden has 445, Finland 253, Russia 145, the Czech Republic has 143 and Slovakia comes at 41—about as many rinks as in Toronto.


I won't dare to suggest that Canada isn't the greatest hockey nation on Earth. But when you handicap that debate against actual numbers of players and facilities in each country, you could make a pretty good argument that, pound for pound, Slovakia deserves the title.

With 100 arguments, some veer into the filler category. And some of the arguments McCown makes are just plain ridiculous. When he states that the women's hockey gold medal winner in the Olympics is a foregone conclusion for the foreseeable future, he isn't wrong. But to suggest that women's hockey shouldn't be an Olympic sport until other countries catch up with Canada is not very convincing. That would eliminate incentive for girls and women who play hockey in Canada and would reduce the sport's visibility elsewhere.

The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments is written in a straightforward and conversational way that is reminiscent of McCown's radio broadcasts or a good discussion board rant. Well worth the read for those who love watching, playing, and most importantly, discussing the game of hockey.

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