Here at IceMenManiacs.com, we always strive to give you great reading material – primarily about the IceMen, but also about hockey in general. With that goal in mind, I’ll occasionally review a book about hockey after I’ve read it cover-to-cover. If it’s a good read, I’ll encourage you to give it a look as well. And if it’s not, I’ll shoot straight and hopefully keep you from wasting your time and money on it.
Last year, my first review was about “The Code” by Ross Bernstein, which took an in-depth look at fighting and physicality in hockey. Not a great book, but still worth reading for the stories within.
Now, my second review is of a book about a man who never played or coached a single game in the NHL – but he’s a well-known and beloved figure among fans, and one of the most colorful personalities in the league’s recent history…
BETWEEN THE LINES:
Not-So-Tall Tales From Ray Scapinello’s Four Decades in the NHL
Published in 2007, written by Ray Scapinello and Rob Simpson
[Purchase on Amazon.com]
When 24-year old Ray Scapinello officiated his first NHL game in 1971, the league had just 14 teams, an unknown kid named Wayne Gretzky was all of 10 years old, and you only needed 36 cents to purchase a gallon of gas.
An incredible 33 seasons later, Scapinello retired in 2004 after enjoying the longest on-ice career in NHL history, having worked an incredible 2500 NHL games in the regular season and another 426 in the playoffs.
Widely regarded as the greatest linesman to ever don a set of stripes, in 2008 Scapinello became just the 15th on-ice official (and only the fifth linesman) to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Scapinello grew up in Guelph, Ontario, where he played hockey as a kid and earned the nickname “Scampy” due to his speed and non-stop energy. He then started officiating youth and junior games in Ontario, and quickly worked his way up the ladder to the NHL.
Though he was often the smallest person on the ice at just 5’7″ and 163 pounds, “Scampy” proved to be surprisingly tough and reliable – he never missed a single NHL game due to injury or illness. He wasn’t just durable though – he was also well-liked and almost universally respected, quite a rarity for any official in sports.
A smooth and fast skater AND talker, Scapinello’s personality was far bigger than his physical stature. The playful camaraderie he developed with players and coaches was a big part of why he enjoyed such a successful career.
Known for his helmetless bald head, “Scampy” was honored for his excellence with numerous high-profile assignments, including several NHL All-Star Games, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan (the only time he ever wore a helmet), and an astounding 20 Stanley Cup Finals series.
“Between the Lines” is not strictly a biography, per se, nor is it a chronological account of a man’s life. It’s more of a tribute to Scapinello’s career and love of the game, and to hockey’s on-ice officials in general.
Featuring forwards by Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman and Scotty Bowman, author Rob Simpson’s book is at its heart simply a vast collection of interesting and amusing stories from and about Scapinello and his peers.
While a solid majority of the anecdotes are told from Scapinello’s own perspective, the book also includes numerous stories from and about his fellow officials, including Wayne Bonney, Paul Devorski, Scott Driscoll, Kerry Fraser, Terry Gregson, Wally Harris, Don Koharski, Bill McCreary, Mark Pare, Rob Shick, Leon Stickle, Andy Van Hellemond and Stephen Walkom.
Some online reviews for “Between the Lines” are critical of the variety of people who are extensively quoted, but I believe the breadth of story sources actually helps make the book even better. The additional perspectives about life as a hockey official and Scapinello himself are not unwelcome distractions.
Regardless, Scapinello’s own words are more than enough to make the book worth reading. Among the topics “Scampy” covers are:
• Stories about many of the game’s biggest names – such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros, Igor Larionov and Gary Bettman.
• Working games at some of hockey’s greatest buildings – including Chicago Stadium, Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, New York’s Madison Square Garden, and Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.
• Handling fights and brawls, and feared enforcers like Tie Domi and Bob Probert.
• Conducting face-offs, and which players stand out as the best on draws.
• Controversial calls, flat-out bad calls, honest mistakes, and the NHL’s system for performance evaluations.
• When the officials first unionized, salaries, and the change to a 2-referee system.
• General changes in the game of hockey over the years, including the infamous “in the crease” rule.
• The brotherhood of officials – life on the road, pranks, nicknames, and the like. (Including a great story about how he and his cohorts once tried to steal the Stanley Cup.)
• Refusing to work a game after a fellow official was involved in a heated incident with an angry coach.
• The fact that his dad wasn’t a hockey fan, and that his parents never once attended an NHL game he worked.
• Off-the-ice hobbies and stories, including his love of golf, collecting hockey memorabilia, and run-ins with celebrities.
The Bottom Line:
“Between the Lines” is a fun read about a fun guy. It may be most entertaining to those who have spent time as a hockey official themselves, but it should be enjoyable to pretty much any hockey fan. Newer fans might even learn a thing or two, thanks to the unique perspectives shared. But ultimately, this book is not meant to be a source for information. It’s all about stories, and there are some darn good ones. So give “Between the Lines” a look – you might just be surprised by how often one of those evil hockey officials can actually make you smile!