Book: The Boys of Winter

The Boys of Winter
Wayne Coffey
2005

I had a blast reading this book. It has a really clever structure and the writing is excellent. Both combine to give the book a great flow. The book is about the men who coached, assisted and played on the 1980 Olympic hockey team (the “miracle” team). The book focuses on the game against the USSR, the game Team USA was never supposed to be able to win. It was a moment that made history, but even though I grew up knowing one of the players from that team (Mark Johnson), I never knew that much about the team itself.

The book is divided up like a hockey game: three periods, two intermissions and a post-game wrap up. The narrative is strung together with an account of the game, almost play by play. As important things (or not so important things) happen, Coffey breaks out of the narrative of the game to focus on one member of the team. For each man he tells us about his family, hometown, background, personality and ambitions. He seems to have interviewed nearly everyone ever connected to that team (including the Olympic Zamboni driver!). He uses illustrative stories, quotes from the men and from their teammates, friends and families, and facts from their backgrounds to give the reader of who each man was as a person. Each player, coach and important support staff member discussed only has five pages or so devoted to him, but each player becomes more of a real person in those five pages than they ever seemed to be from the videos of them playing that I (and many other people) have watched. I loved getting to hear about the players’ hopes and dreams, communities and lives after the Olympics.

My father met Coffey at some point in the writing of this book (presumably when he was here to meet Mark Johnson). The project really interested my dad and he ended up talking to Coffey a good deal and helping him track down tapes, interesting stories and whatever else he had access to that Coffey may not have. I totally understand why this book was so interesting to him. It was a wonderful read and I was excited about it as I read it! I read very few books that have to do with sports in any way because they usually kind of bore me, but this one was a gem. I had more fun reading this than I ever would have expected to! I laughed out loud and came close to tears a number of times while reading it. It didn’t feel like a sports book, it felt like a joint biography of about twenty-three people or so. It was great.

I loved this book. I definitely recommend it. Even if you normally don’t read sports books, this is a great read. It’s uplifting, optimistic, and fun. It takes a group of people that have become legendary and made them real. I would have no qualms about recommending this to everyone. So go read it!

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