Manitoba History: Book Review: Mark Moore, Saving the Game: Pro Hockey’s Quest to Raise its Game from Crisis to New Heights

by Daniel S. Lenoski
Acting Rector and Associate Professor of English
St. Paul’s College, University Of Manitoba

Number 53, October 2006

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

Ken Dryden writes his book The Game (republished by Wiley in 2003 in a new edition with a new chapter called “Overtime ”) as a memoir, the story of nine days during his life as a professional hockey player for the Montreal Canadians. The book is intensely personal as he reflects about his ambivalence about playing longer, revealing his indecision about what to do with his life and his once great team’s indecision about what to do with its season. His thoughts turn also to the history of hockey and his own love of the Game as a youngster growing up with his brother and to his problems, as an aging competitor, struggling to preserve the integrity of his sense of competition and play. Perhaps the best part of the book are those sections in which he provides close up, in depth analysis of Montreal stars like Guy Lapointe and Guy Lafleur and Scotty Bowman. Especially striking are his portraits of lesser lights like Doug Risebrough and Rejean Houle who struggle to provide themselves with security outside of the Game. Are these character sketches true? What certainly is indeed true is that to Dryden they are true and they tell us that he tries hard to be a man of integrity and humanity.

No less humanity is true of Mark Moore in his book. In fact, his title echoes that of Dryden. He begins similarly with a dramatic and moving description of the night of 8 March 2004 when he watched on TV as his brother Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche had his neck broken and his NHL career ended by Todd Bertuzzi. Mark Moore points out that this, however, is not the inspiration for the book Saving the Game. It was already in its infancy when Steve was injured. Indeed, his own decision to end his career in 2003 because of a concussion “forced to the forefront” ideas that already been is his mind in a less focused form. Steve’s injury crystallized them even more and when the 2004 - 05 season was cancelled, the motive power for the book became both personal and compelling. These were three dramatic pieces of proof that the Game Moore passionately loves was in trouble. He is careful, however, to point out that the only personal axe he has to grind is his love for the Game which he considers to be, in its purest form, the fastest, most beautiful, most skilled and most entertaining sport in the world. This is obviously no vendetta on the part of Moore or his family against hockey. He clearly states that he speaks only for himself and he is careful to be accurate and fair.

Early on he also points out that his book is not meant as an encyclopedic treatment of every aspect of hockey. He concentrates his efforts on the pro game. However, in doing so, Moore reveals that he understands that the influence of pro hockey ripples out into hockey at all levels and so, in claiming not to be exhaustive in his treatment of the Game, Moore still manages to provide the most comprehensive book on hockey that I, at least, have ever read. Despite the unfortunate lack of footnotes Saving the Game is also the most scholarly. Moore has done his homework very well. It is an understatement to say that, like Ken Dryden (Cornell), Moore’s academic background (Harvard) is crucial to his understanding and treatment of his subject.

However, in providing his analysis, Moore distances himself from his material more than Dryden. In contrast to the latter, most often he does not use first person narration. His book is less a story than Dryden’s and more a series of essays. He is more academic. He operates logically most often, keeping his emotions at bay, and providing proof by using numbers or quotations or charts to establish there are indeed problems with the Game and to analyze why. This involves careful research in fields like history, economics, law and even physics. He finds precedents or parallels in the tradition of sport to support his solution to hockey’s problems. And he is up-to-date, on the cutting edge of research in his field so to speak. He takes into account the CBA that was signed in the spring of 2005 between the NHL and its Players’ Association. Indeed, he examines the new agreement and the hockey season it would produce in a great deal of detail and, though he finds several weaknesses, his prognosis for the Game is positive.

Other than perhaps the story he tells of his family’s reaction to his brother’s injury, the best part of the book is a section that concerns professional sport in general where Moore defines the essential features of business and those of sport as well. Professional hockey involves both. He associates sport with honour, sportsmanship, moral decency, self-discipline, excellence, healthy competition, physical and mental health, respect, the realization of dreams, cooperation and bonding between different categories of people like the old and the young, to name a few qualities that are explicit and some that are implicit to his argument. On the other hand, though he appreciates the risk involved in business ventures in the sporting arena and the financial support business provides for sport, the one quality that is associated with business more than any other he calls the financial bottom line: that is, making money! In essence, sport is human. Business is not.

Moore argues that until relatively recently professional hockey and other sports had managed a healthy balance between the two. What has happened in the near past is that business has begun to dominate sport and the result, for hockey in particular, has been disastrous. To this imbalance Moore traces many of the problems of the game such as allegations of substance abuse, violence, the neglect of the aesthetic parts of the game for the ethic of winning at all costs. And this has filtered down to all levels of hockey. His solution is that the relationship between business and hockey has to be reconfigured and he provides the reader with a social covenant written as a contract (between the public and pro sport) to do so. He also suggests bodies be created to govern the relationship not only between business and sport and pro sport and the public, but to protect the integrity of all aspects of the game itself.

Canada’s national hockey team, 1966-67. Brandon University historian Dr. Morris Mott is second from right in the back row.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, E. P. O’Dowda Collection #167, N7861.

This then is not just a book that complains about the problems in hockey. Moore provides a positive program of reform and he is specific and detailed, and, though he might have dealt with issues like irresponsible sexual behavior, drinking and gambling among younger players (after all, hockey players are human like the rest of us), his book is still amazingly comprehensive, considering topics like the draft, college hockey, salary caps and revenue sharing, equipment, officiating, violence, rules, tournaments, public access, and even government legislation. Perhaps the most dramatic change that Moore proposes is the deletion of one player on the ice: 4 on 4. He points out, among other things, that the tradition already contains a precedent for such a dramatic change with the reduction of the number of players on the ice in the long past to seven from nine and then from seven to six. He suggests that the “centre go … the way of the Rover.”

It was this particular innovation suggested by Moore, in an interview I partly heard on CBC radio, that disturbed me and made me want to review the book and refute it. My qualifications: I love hockey passionately and to watch the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL my wife Brigitte and I have driven over 55,000 kilometers in the last three years to prove it (not counting plane rides). In the last fifty or so years I have read and reviewed a lot of books and I have seen a lot of hockey. I find the prospect of a hockey game based on the full strength principle of 4 on 4 too dramatic a change. In the apprehensive words of John Dryden: “innovation is the blow of fate.” However, after reading Saving the Game I am not so certain Moore is wrong. His argument is compelling, though I am still reluctant. It still might be too soon for so drastic a measure. On the other hand again, the other analyses he provides and changes he proposes cause me little, if any, apprehensions. This book is a first class, considered critique of the game and if at times the reader feels that the author often repeats himself and doth protest too much (the book could be many pages shorter), and that he underestimates the appeal of tough defensive hockey, at the same time, he makes it clear that this book needed to be written. It also needs to be read. Let’s hope the right people read it and with the openness and cooperation, humanity, intelligence and commitment to action that Moore both demonstrates and calls for in Saving the Game.

Page revised: 29 June 2012