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Brian Conacher's book looks back on life in and around hockey for 60 years

At age 66, he weaves a fascinating tale of his life in and around the sport in his new book, "As The Puck Turns."

"The story is not as much about me as it is my journey," he said during an interview. "I always felt hockey played out as a soap opera.

"I had the title well in advance of ever putting pen to paper."

His father, Lionel Conacher, was a multi-sport athlete who as the 20th century was ending was selected by The Canadian Press as Canada's athlete of the first half-century (1900-1950).

His uncle, Charlie Conacher, scored the first Leafs goal in Maple Leaf Gardens on opening night, Nov. 12, 1931. Brothers Lionel, Charlie and Roy Conacher are all honoured members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Six Conachers, including Brian who was the last to do it, played in the NHL.

He skated in the Olympics and was a member of the last Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup. He played for the Ottawa entry when the WHA started up. Among his broadcasting stints was the colour commentary job with play-by-play legend Foster Hewitt during the Summit Series.

His resume is endless: sports director of a TV station in Windsor; GM of the Edmonton Oilers before they joined the NHL; building operations manager for Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum, Hamilton's Copps Coliseum and Maple Leaf Gardens; CEO of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto; and president of the NHL Alumni Association.

It is safe to say that his background gives him a credible perspective on hockey.

"I'm, basically the tour guide on this journey and I feel my journey has been unique," he says.

The 17th and last chapter is where he cuts loose with analysis, criticisms and suggestions on where the game is and where it is going. His views will spark debate.

An NHL player should have to serve the full two minutes when he is assessed a penalty, regardless of how many goals the opposition scores on the power play, says Conacher.

The NHL should have the guts to finally ban fighting, he says.

Why does he care?

"I've spent almost 60 years in and around the game," he explains. "I think it's the greatest team sport ever played.

"I love the game of hockey. It would be regrettable, especially in Canada where it is so much a part of our heritage, that it could go the way of a dodo bird."

The high cost of equipment and ice time is forcing a decrease in the number of children taking up the sport.

"If you project out, if fewer and fewer people come into the game at the bottom, and fans lose interest partly because of the cost of following it, it's no longer healthy and will shrink," he says.

Recent NHL suspensions of players hurting opponents suggest that "there is a mean-spiritness in the game" among players who have visions of million-dollar salaries, he says.

"Some kids with limited talent would do almost anything for a million bucks," he says.

Conacher played only 155 NHL games. He scored 28 goals.

"I was not a hockey hero," he says. "I had a very modest career: my first goal and my last goal were too close together.

"I didn't write this book as if I've had some great career. I was more of a misfit in many ways. I'm telling a story, including a bit of humour, with some messages. It's food for thought. Clearly, hockey is a game that has lost its way a little bit."

When he was nine or 10, he sat in the family season ticket seats in Maple Leaf Gardens. There was no glass above the boards. One night, Rocket Richard's stick clipped his mother. Fortunately, it was only a minor nick.

His father died when he was only 12. Lionel Conacher had been elected to Parliament and died during a softball game in Ottawa when he was 53. Brian Conacher had little idea at the time about the scope of his father's accomplishments.

He recalls scoring a couple of big goals in the semifinals during the Leafs' 1967 championship run, and being approached by Toronto Star reporter Milt Dunnell.

"He sort of said, 'That's what you were expected to do."'

Because he was a Conacher.

The book has a lot about the Leafs in it, and he usually watches when their games are on TV.

"The Leafs don't appear to be any better than last year and they weren't good enough last year," he says.

He started "As The Puck Turns" five years ago, set it aside for nearly three years, then waded back in after retiring 18 month ago.

"I pushed hard on it almost on a daily basis," he says. "The original manuscript was 170,000 words and the final product is 105,000 so there was a lot of paring down and editing."

Plenty was left that will interest any hockey fan.


(288 pages, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., $32.99)


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