Many hockey fans over the years have gotten annoyed after a goal and yelled such things at the ice as “I could’ve made that save!” Unfortunately for most hockey fans, goalie equipment is expensive, and spots on an NHL roster are incredibly rare. Fortunately, George Plimpton had some equipment paid for by Sports Illustrated and a roster spot just handed to him by the Boston Bruins.
Plimpton was a career journalist, and he was probably most famous for a series of books he wrote as an amateur participant in major sports leagues. It started with Out of My League in which he recounted pitching for a Mickey Mantle-managed American League team against the Willie Mays-managed National League team in an exhibition baseball game at Yankee Stadium. In other books, he travelled on the PGA tour, played for the Detroit Lions, and boxed against Archie Moore.
In Open Net, he goes to training camp with the Bruins and eventually plays 5 minutes in the crease against the Flyers during a preseason exhibition game.
While there’s no direct connections to Michigan Tech in any of this (though there is one nugget about the Esposito brothers, one of whom—Tony—stood in goal for the Huskies in the 1960s, playing knee hockey as kids), the book is still a fascinating read. Plimpton was not a hockey player; he even makes a big deal in the early pages that he couldn’t even skate when they called him up to send him on this journalistic expedition. He approaches the game with an outsider’s ignorance that develops into a deeper understanding as the book goes on, and he learns to play and hears the legends of the greats.
At the time, the coach of the Bruins was none other than Don Cherry, now best known as the Hockey Night in Canada host with the wild suits and controversial (or some might call “old fashioned) opinions about hockey, but at the time a respected coach who had been a journeyman player in the AHL and NHL. Plimpton, being a journalist invited to play for the team but not actually on the roster, spends just as much time with the coaches as he does the players. Some of the best stories in the book aren’t the things that actually happened to Plimpton, but stories that Cherry and the players told him on the bus or at the bar.
In the end, Plimpton only gets to play for a few minutes of actual game action, but the book gives a great insight to the life of a hockey player in the late 1970s. The practices, the bus rides, and the late nights out at the bars. Open Net isn’t a long or difficult read by any means, and anybody looking for something to take with them on a holiday trip or needing a gift for the hockey fan in their life would do good to pick it up. If you’d like to snag a copy and support Tech Hockey Guide at the same time, you can use the Amazon link below, and THG will get a small portion of your purchase.
(A review copy of this book was not provided; the author purchased a copy on his own. Cover image of George Plimpton adapted through Creative Commons license).