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This book began 9 years ago on a walk with my father when reminiscing about the past I unexpectedly choked up. I realized then how much I missed Hartford and the Whalers. I needed to find someone who loved them as much. Tiger Burns was revealed to me.
From 1984 to 1994 I worked for the Whalers--driving a new car on-ice between periods (moonlighting in the Actuarial Department at Travelers Insurance). Some would say I saw a lot of bad hockey. I couldn't disagree more. It was the most privileged association of my life.
It was a magical time, just out of college, with scores of like-aged actuaries to hang out with. And, of course, there was the Whale. My roommate Brad Peters was a press gofer for the team. One night out of the blue he called, tone urgent, "Get down here! We need someone to work the penalty box." That night, I opened and closed the gate for Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Perrault.
Two weeks later, Brad called again. This time the need was different. When I arrived, his supervisor Mr. Henderson tossed me a pair of keys. Drive the promotional Honda Accord on ice between the first and second period. "On ice?" I gasped. What if the car skidded, rammed the boards and flew into the crowd? I could already see the headlines: DRIVER GOES BERSERK AT CIVIC CENTER. 10,000 LOOK ON IN HORROR. 'MAD DOG' MULDOON UNDER HEAVY GUARD.
It went fine. Next season, incredibly, the regular driver left. These jobs were plums, passed on from father to son. Get your friend, Mr. Henderson told Brad. For the next 10 seasons I drove the car on-ice (first a Honda, then a Buick and last a Cadillac). No headlines.
I wrote a story "View from the Penalty Box" in the Sunday Hartford Courant describing the experience. Phil Langan, the Whalers PR Director, invited me to write for Goal Magazine, the game program. I cut my teeth with features on the Zamboni Driver, Team Photographer, Team Dentist, Security Guards, Assistant General Manager, and Sky Boxes. Mercifully, at last, he entrusted me with a player.
His name was Shane Churla. A tough guy! Wear a helmet and mouthpiece to the interview, my father teased. Others followed: Sylvain Cote, Paul MacDermid, Randy LaDouceur, Scott Young. No more Zamboni Drivers. Some of the players I profiled became NHL Coaches: Joel Quenneville, Dave Tippett, John Anderson.
I went to grad school in New York City and moved back home to Boston, where for 2 seasons I drove 120 miles round-trip to keep the car-driving gig. In Boston I experienced first-hand how all things Hartford were sneered at: Hartford sucks! Whalers suck! My affections deepened. Who doesn't love an underdog?
On April 13, 1997 I headed down for the last game. PA Announcer Greg Gilmartin snuck me down in to the penalty box where it all started for me 14 years earlier. I watched teary-eyed along with 15,000 others. Oooooooooooone minute left in Hartford, Gilmartin said.
After the game, we went to Chuck's for the Irish wake. Beat writers Jeff Jacobs and Alan Greenberg, of The Courant, Randy Smith, of the Journal-Inquirer held court, as always, but the mood was funereal.
Kevin Dineen scored the last goal--and the players left for Carolina. Hartford was left with bittersweet memories. Five years later, I took that walk with my father--and the memories all flooded back.
Writing this has been a monomaniacal pursuit for 9 years. I've learned one thing: I don't have a glass jaw. Again and again I've been knocked down, dusted off the ice shavings and skated back into the fray.
For a time I had a New York agent (who represented The English Patient novel), and she pitched it to a New York publisher, and the response was "Hockey books don't sell!" I tried telling her it was a Rocky book, not a hockey book. An underdog story. A love story. She said in these troubled times publishing houses are closing. I said in these troubled times America needs Tiger Burns and his story of loss and perseverance.
Hockey books don't sell. The epitaph.
So now I take inspiration from fellow Bates alum Lisa Genova who self-published when she was told Alzheimer books don't sell. Still Alice went viral, was picked up and debuted on the New York Times best-seller list at #5. Alzheimer books don't sell, indeed.
What happens when a major league pro sports team leaves a city? The Hartford Whalers left on April 13, 1997--leaving behind devastated fans. The players left, too--except one who stayed and suffered like the fans.
Tiger Burns is an unlikely hero--even for a hobbit-sized, smash-faced, hockey goon with 600 fights. Standing 5'3", with one-eye, cauliflower ears, and a full-rigged ship tattoo on his chest, his most unusual feature is this: he loves Hartford and its team, the Whalers. In a league where players date super models, ice princesses and Miss Americas, he is a misfit. But in a league of Los Angeles, New York and Boston so is Hartford.
Brass Bonanza Plays Again tells the riches-to-rags story of Mark Twain's hometown, once the nation's richest, now the butt of jokes. It relates the true saga of a small city's beloved team moved away, like Brooklyn's Dodgers. And it weaves the tragicomic tale of the muscle-bound gnome who blows the jump-the-shark game against arch-rival Boston on April 11, 1990, lives homeless under a bridge, only to rise up and lead a dead team, out of the stands onto the ice.
Tiger rallies not only a dead hockey team, but awakens the ghosts of Hartford's past. He brings to life a ragtag band of 19th century legends and is saved by a guardian angel Rube Waddell, one of sport's "goats" from the 1905 World Series. Can a one-eyed, homeless underdog make a faded city believe and rescue a star-crossed spirit? In Brass Bonanza Plays Again, we have Rocky (on Skates!) meets Field of Dreams.
Rocky came out of a Philly row house, Rudy out of an Indiana steel mill, and now Tiger Burns comes out from under a Hartford bridge to bring a dead team to life. A book of provincial aspirations and condescension, Brass Bonanza Plays Again tells the story of this small city, midway between New York and Boston, long considered just a urine-stop or ass-wipe between Wall Street and Cape Cod.
The New York Times recently printed an essay "In Search of the Great American Hockey Novel" lamenting that hockey, unlike other sports, has yet to be celebrated in a notable work. "Where is the Chekhov of the Chicago Blackhawks?" the Times asks. "Who is the Stendahl of the stick to the groin?" To that, we humbly say: read on.
I just finished reading this book. It’s a must-read if you are a New England sports fan still living in MA/CT or have moved away (like me) who is nostalgic about the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by R. Harris
Expected a bit more... but a fun read... went off track toward the end (homeless thing). But ok otherwise.Published 2 months ago by EJA2ndCT
I highly recommend this book. Muldoon is an amazing author. I like sports, but typically don't get a lot of pleasure out of reading about sports. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
I've watched a few hockey games and driven through Hartford a few times. My brother and his wife in Montana used to board teenage hockey players in the Farm League, or whatever... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Karen Ziminski
While it's hardly high literature, the adventures and misadventures of Tiger Burns is a lot of fun for everyone who still has the Hartford Whalers in their hearts. Read morePublished on December 13, 2012 by Adam Bashaw
While searching for the "Goon" DVD on amazon.com, I came across this interesting little book. I bought them both. Read morePublished on August 8, 2012 by bjm
This book spans the gap between science fiction and historical fiction- a gap that I must say I didn't know existed. Read morePublished on March 23, 2011 by Wally
Outstanding job by author Bob Muldoon on this well written book that re-ignites the passion within for the Hartford Whalers. Read morePublished on March 21, 2011 by Bradley "Stump" Peters