Book Review – Gratoony the Loony

Gilles Gratton is a character, that fact has been well established in stories that have been passed down over the 40 years since his retirement in 1977. But now Gratton has produced an autobiography called Gratoony the Loony, co-written by veteran sportswriter Greg Oliver to debunk some of those stories as well as add new ones to the legend that is Gilles Gratton.

Eccentric behavior among goaltenders is nothing new, but Gratton turned the dial up to eleven with his streaking and claims of past lives. Gratton’s reputation as a free spirit was further enhanced by his famous lion mask which he addresses in the books introduction. The mask’s origin and creation are detailed as well as the way he kept it under wraps and revealed it to teammates, officials and fans alike at the beginning of a game at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1977, a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, one of only eleven wins Gratton recorded in 41 games that season.

One of five offspring’s of “emotionally absent” parents, Gilles was wildly undisciplined as a child and dropped out of high school after only a few days. Gratton writes of being tormented by existential questions such as – why he was on this planet and in this body and of how he found an outlet in sports. He traces his path through his junior hockey days with the Oshawa Generals to the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals \ Toronto Toros to the NHL with the St Louis Blues and his final season with the New York Rangers.

It’s a wild ride that makes for good reading with tales of hockey, sex, drugs and rock and roll (Gratton is an accomplished self- taught musician). Gilles pulls no punches, describing many of his antics and adventures in great detail – some are funny, some are gross, bordering on disgusting. Gratton admits that mistakes were made and that he has a number of regrets.

However, The underlying theme of the book is that Gratton really didn’t care about anything. He found little importance in life in general or in any of the things that most people hold dear. It’s a shame because he certainly had the talent but lacked the desire to succeed. He freely admits that he really didn’t like to play hockey and was only in it for the money which he used to finance his quest for spiritual enlightenment by meditating, going to ashrams and practicing yoga.

Many nights he refused to play, not because of his astrological chart, which he used as an excuse, but because he just didn’t want to. Ranger fans will be interested in reading about the little dance he used to do when coach John Ferguson would enter the Ranger locker room and toss John Davidson a puck before a game, meaning that JD would be playing that night and not Gratton. He also had a run in with Ranger captain Phil Esposito which ultimately led to the end of his Ranger career.

Although this book is surely about hockey, Gratton also addresses his former lives, a 12th century sailor, a 14th century Indian “hobo,” a 17th century Spanish landowner, an 18th century Spanish priest and a 19th century British surgeon among them. He also discusses his post-hockey life and the happiness he has now found with his children.

Gratoony the Loony is a well written, open and honest account of the life of one of hockey’s most colorful characters. Hockey fans will enjoy the many stories and insider’s view of a player’s life. They may also gain some insight as to what made Gratoony a Looney.