Book Review: “Beating the Odds: In Hockey and in Life” (paperback) and “Undrafted: Hockey, Family, and What it Takes to be a Pro” (hardcover)

Author Perry Lefko is a pro’s pro when it comes sports literature and his resume reflects the plethora of sports topics he has chronicled for the past 35 years. His titles run the gamut from hockey to thoroughbred racing to Canadian Football to curling.

This Christmas season Perry makes a twin-killing with the paperback release of Beating the Odds: In Hockey and Life and the hardcover release of Undrafted: Hockey, Family, and What it takes to be a Pro.

Eddie Olczyk and Nick Kypreos (both acting as co-authors of Beating the Odds and Undrafted, respectively) discussed their lives and bared their souls to Perry (who performs brilliantly as amanuensis translating their lives and memories with surgical skill and the delicate touch of a portraitist).

The end results are a dynamic duo of bios which should be bought together and read together. Both books have common threads. Both men were born in the same year; played in their hometowns (Olczyk with Chicago and Kypreos with Toronto); and yet both men were journeymen players (Olczyk played for six teams while Kypreos played for four) and both men discuss the vicissitudes of being traded and the disruptions it brings to spouses and children.

Both men endured significant medical crises: Olczyk, cancer and Kypreos, a severe concussion which ended his playing career; both men transitioned from playing hockey to working as hockey commentators, creating distinctive niches in their new careers (Kypreos made a name for himself at Sportsnet with his uncanny ability to predict trades while Olczyk diversified his broadcasting career with his keen eye for handicapping thoroughbreds); both men served as guest commentators in each other’s memoirs; and both men were teammates for the 1993/94 New York Rangers who won the Stanley Cup that year.

However there are subtle differences to both men. Olczyk was born in the United States, played on the Team USA hockey team in the 1984 Winter Olympics and was a first round draft choice in the 1984 NHL draft. Kypreos was an undrafted free agent who had to wait until 1989 to make his NHL debut. Olczyk was a shooter and scorer as a player while Kypreos was an enforcer type blue-liner.

There are also subtle differences in the tone in both books. Olczyk’s voices his memories with cool understatement while Kypreos’ thoughts are filled with intensity and passion that reflects his Grecian heritage. Again, Lefko balances the differing personalities judiciously and effectively.

The best and most in-depth chapters for both books is when both men discuss their experiences playing for Iron Mike Keenan during the Rangers Stanley Cup run. Both men suffered at the hands of Iron Mike and yet both men were able to hoist the Cup in the end. Their joint insights about Mark Messier reaffirms just how important Messier was to the Rangers’ Stanley Cup success.

Both books end on differing notes. Olczyk delves deeply with his bout with Stage 3 colon cancer. His insights will hopefully help readers enduring their own cancer struggles. Kypreos discusses being present at the creation of Sportsnet and his memories of working with his colleagues to make Sportsnet a true rival of TSN are valuable to anyone wishing to get into sports TV broadcasting.

The only minor peeve I had while reading both books was found in Nick Kypreos’ book Undrafted. Kyper briefly discusses his memories of playing for the late Bryan Murray and Terry Murray for the Washington Capitals. My complaint is that Kypreos didn’t delve more deeply and with greater depth about what it was like to play for Bryan and Terry Murray—both men rank among the top 50 NHL coaches of all time. I wish Kypreos had provided more info about the tactical and motivational styles of both coaches.

In the end both books score and both books will make lovely stocking stuffers for anyone who loves reading hockey literature at Christmas time.