“Deceptions & Doublecross” Book Review: How the NHL Conquered Hockey

 

A must read book for any hockey f an

What’s up everyone and welcome to another book review, here on DOINOW.com. When it comes to the major sports in America, hockey books don’t sell as well as football, baseball or basketball books. The purpose of these recent hockey book reviews is to shed light on some gems and books you should definitely go out of your way to check out. “Deceptions and Doublecross” written by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth is one of them.

I had the pleasure of “interviewing”, if you count conversing through facebook as interviewing, Morey Holzman, the author of this book after reading. This book was published in 2002 and when I was done reading the book, I had so many questions. I didn’t have questions because the book was incomplete, I had questions because the book was published 13 years ago and Holzman obviously has his opinions on certain characters in NHL/NHA history. From what Holzman says, no one has disputed anything he wrote in this book, which is mighty impressive, considering the strong accusations and allegations he made, based on the facts he discovered.

“Deceptions and Doublecross” is about the history of the NHL. The book deals with all the major players, the deals to get clubs going, the management, the politics and everything else. The meat and potatoes of this book is the history of the NHA and how/why the NHA folded. The majority of the book deals with the controversial Eddie Livingstone, who owned the NHA team in Toronto. Livingstone would go on to manage/own several other teams during his tenure in hockey, but it was his actions and dealings, while running Toronto in the NHA days, that led to the formation of the NHL.

“Deceptions and Doublecross” is a meticulously and well-researched book. All quotes and sources are cited. At one point, I was up to 600 footnotes/sources! I had to stop counting there! However, it just made me feel confident that while opinion was interjected in the book, I was getting opinion based on fact. That is very important.

Frank Calder wasn’t painted to be a great guy in “Deceptions and Doublecross”

I talked about reading books by Canadian authors in other book reviews, here on DOINOW.com. If you’re not familiar with Canada’s history or Canadian-English, you may need to bust out Google several times while reading. You will need to know basic geography as well. Canadian patriotism was extremely strong in the NHA/beginning of NHL era, but that is only a minor factor in this book.

Every mover and shaker of the World War 1 era is talked about. I love learning about history and this book is a freaking encyclopedia. I never took out so much knowledge out of a sports book before. Names that led to the creation of the league we all love, outside of perhaps Conn Smythe & Frank Calder aren’t exactly house-hold names. Holzman does a great job bringing these men, from 100 years ago, to life and illuminating them.

George Kennedy of the Habs. Sam Lichtentein of the Wanderers. Eddie Livingstone of Toronto. The Patrick brothers of the PCHA. Elmer Ferguson, an NHL Hall of Fame writer. Gorman of Ottawa. The 228 Battalion. No stone is left unturned.

Holzman does a great job explaining the importance of these men in hockey’s history, their agendas and most importantly – the politics. The ugly politics that plague our daily lives today, were just as vicious 100 years ago, throughout Canada.

The grave of Toronto Ontario owner, Eddie Livingstone. Holzman even visited his grave & had an interesting story about his gravesite.

The NHL was created essentially through a loophole. The NHA owners & NHA President Frank Calder couldn’t stand Eddie Livingstone. Livingstone didn’t do anything wrong business-wise and was on the wrong side of a political game. The NHA couldn’t throw Livingstone out. So all the teams and Calder himself, created a new league, the NHL, and wouldn’t let Livingstone in. From that point on in time, 30 years, give or take, until his death in the 1940’s, Livingstone would fight the NHL.

The authors make their agenda known. Just like I’m a Cam Talbot guy on this site, Livingstone, whose reputation is smeared in hockey history, is portrayed in a favorable light in this book. What the authors do is attack the journalistic integrity of the writers of that era. However, the book isn’t a hit piece, because Holzman and Nieforth cite all their material and sources. Just like many corporations today in America own TV stations and newspapers, hockey clubs of that era put newspaper writers on payroll. Therefore, the teams controlled what stories were published. More importantly, the teams controlled what stories weren’t published either.

Perhaps the most corrupt NHL Hall of Famer? This is Elmer Ferguson, later in life

Hockey writer Elmer Ferguson’s version of the creation of the NHL is what is most commonly accepted by fans. “Deception and Doublecross” exposes Ferguson as nothing but a man taking a pay-out during the formation of the NHL. The authors even reprint Ferguson articles from the 1910’s that contradict writings of Ferguson 30-40 years later. His contributions to hockey aside, Ferguson is exposed as a fraud and a man that could be bought. As a friend of Frank Calder, Elmer Ferguson made sure that Eddie Livingstone never had a chance.

With so many lives and people discussed in this book, I thought Holzman did a great job of explaining their decisions. The book tends to side and always show you the view of Eddie Livingstone. While the book is pro-Livingstone, the book explains every situation. I could understand in the Livingstone vs Lichentein battles, the views of both men. I can even see why the authors sided with Livingstone. If there is any criticism of this book, is that with the sides, angles and everything else discussed about every man in this book, I really never understood what made Frank Calder tick.

The book starts off with the Livingstone vs Lichentein battles and how Livingstone was left to be an owner in a one-team league, while the NHL launched. I just never got a full grasp on what motivated Calder, as the book graduates to the Calder vs Livingstone feud. When I asked Holzman about it, he agreed that he thought that he was a bit too harsh on Calder. Even if Holzman sides with Livingstone over Calder, I never got the story from Calder’s view as well. As the book gets to its final 50 pages, you can see the animosity the authors have for Calder.  It was the only thing missing from the book.

The NHL did not have a rosy beginning

“Deceptions and Doublecross” was published 13 years ago. However, it’s a history book and the book holds up today. To truly understand the creation of the NHL, the corruption of the time, and even how Al Capone was involved, this book is a must-read book.

Holzman and Nieforth really did their homework for this book. I am too young to remember Elmer Ferguson, but I lost respect for him after reading this book. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention. I was familiar with Calder and Livingstone’s roles before reading this book. I now have a new-found appreciation for Livingstone. I don’t even know if there are memos, transcripts or stories passed down, but I wish I could understand why Calder was hellbent on ruining Livingstone. You figure there would be more money to be made together.

I was able to purchase this book for $1.00 on Amazon.com. It was the best $1.00 I’ve spent in a while. I know I will be referencing this book and thumbing through this book repeatedly.

Elmer Ferguson wrote the history of the NHL. Holzman and Nieforth re-wrote it.

Sean McCaffrey

BULLSMC@aol.com

@NYCTHEMIC on twitter

Comments

  1. Great review and I couldn’t agree more with these lines you wrote: “I am too young to remember Elmer Ferguson, but I lost respect for him after reading this book. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention. I was familiar with Calder and Livingstone’s roles before reading this book. I now have a new-found appreciation for Livingstone.” as the same thing happened on my end.

    As I’m writing this I have to mention I am reading this book for the second time and I don’t get tired of it! I wouldn’t be surprised if I read it a third time…

    If I can suggest another book to you and others about hockey of the same era: Craig Bowlsby’s “Empire Of Ice – the rise and fall of the PCHA”.

    I’d rate “Deceptions and Doublecross” as my top hockey history book of all time. “Empire Of Ice” as #2

    1. Hey Danny- thanks for reading the review.

      I’m going to add Empire of Ice to my Amazon list and pick it up shortly.

      I thought the authors did a great job, even with the pro-Livingstone bias in D&D. Lester Patrick fascinates me, so the PCHA book should be fun.

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