Book Review: “My First Goal”

My First Goal – by Mike Brophy
Paperback – 254 pages
McClelland and Stewart
$17.95 (US) 19.99 (CAN)

Veteran hockey journalist Mike Brophy’s latest release, My First Goal, a look back on the first NHL goals scored by 50 different players, is likely to be widely enjoyed in the upcoming gifting season. Easy to wrap, easy to read and covering a time period from the late 1940s through the present day, Brophy’s second solo outing has at least a few passages that would be of interest to interest hockey fans of any age, from grade-schoolers to grandparents.

After a foreword from Glen Hanlon, who maintains he did not allow Wayne Gretzky’s first NHL marker, (The Great One scored it, he argues.) individual tales, divided into thematic chapters, revisit the first time each man lit the lamp in NHL play. Well, all but one. Pete Mahovlich is a little fuzzy on the first time he found the back of a big league net but does remember a certain 1972 goal against a Soviet team.

Using extensive quotes from the players themselves as well as linking biographical commentary to flesh out the narratives, Brophy provides a context for the achievements and, in the case of some of the less well-known players, allows for a clearer picture of the individuals than their frequently meagre statistics do.

The opening chapter, dubbed The Best of the Best features Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Phil Esposito while the Ron Hextall, the first netminder to put one in the net at the other end of the rink and the legendary Fabian Brunnstrom, who proved that good things do sometimes happen in threes and, after watching the two first games of the season from the press ring, scored a hat trick in his initial NHL encounter.

The third chapter, O Captain! My Captain!, seems to betray a certain bias on the part of the author, who devotes it to three men in blue, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour, who combined to lead the Maple Leafs to no Stanley Cups.

For some reason men named Messier, Yzerman, Beliveau and Clarke, all of whom knew a thing or two about being leaders of men, find themselves in the chapter called Standout Stars alongside “Tiger” Williams, Jarome Iginla, Rod Brind’Amour, Brendan Shanahan and Martin St. Louis.

Six families with more than one NHL scorer, some separated by a year or two, others by a generation, are written up in another chapter, with the Howe, Staal, Campbell, Wilson, Mahovlich and Pronger clans all getting their due.

Some interesting bits of trivia can be gleaned from the men included in the second-last chapter, one devoted to memorable moments and winning stories.

We learn that the normally peaceable Paul Henderson did not light the lamp on his first NHL shift. Following his father’s advice to do something to make an impression in his first Red Wings game, he looked for the smallest Leaf opponent on the ice, slashing and then going at it gloveless with Dick Duff.

Other interesting tales deal with Jim Vesey who scored the only goal of his 15-game NHL career into an empty, present day on-ice official Dean Morton who got his first big league goal just in time, finding the twine in his only NHL appearance, and Danny Syvret, who became the first NHLer to pot one on an MLB field in last season’s Winter Classic at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park.

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