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Raw Charge Book Recommendation: The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL

A look into the absurd, sometimes unbelievable, history of our favorite sport.

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So, it’s been more than a month. You know exactly how many steps it is from the couch to the refrigerator. You’ve watched the Tiger King show, the Tiger King expose, and listened to the podcast. In fact you’ve listened to every podcast ever recorded. As of now, it’s still going to be a little while longer until there are live sports (and no, despite being essential to Florida, wrestling is not a sport). What ever shall you do to occupy your time now?

So why not read a book? Nothing says leave me alone like holding a book up to your face so it helps with social distancing. We here at Raw Charge are ready to help you out with some infrequent recommendations in regards to reading material related to hockey. First up on the list:

The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL by Sean McIndoe

McIndoe, a.k.a Down Goes Brown, is one of the more recognized names when it comes to hockey’s online media. Most of that is due to the fact that his recognizable blend of history and love for the absurd has appeared on just about every publication/website that has ever mentioned hockey. Now with The Athletic (like every other sports writer) his writing has appeared on Sportsnet, The Hockey News, Grantland, and Vice Sports.

The book, originally released in 2018, reads like a really extended version of one of his normal columns. It’s an easy and quick read, those ambitious enough may be able to polish it off in one or two sittings. The self-avowed Toronto Maple Leafs fan (a bias that only shows when discussing a certain lack of a high-stick call many years ago) showcases the history of the league while pointing out many of the more absurd incidents that have happened through the years.

What’s this book about?

Well, it’s pretty much in the title. McIndoe tackles roughly a 100-year stretch of the history of the NHL. From the early days of the league being created “with a bunch of guys sitting around trying to figure out how to ditch the loser in the group that nobody likes” up until about 2017.

It proceeds in generally a linear fashion with each of the 25 chapters generally tackling a specific set of years. He does bounce around a little in the section about lockouts but for the most part the book moves forward.

Anyone familiar with McIndoe’s writing knows that he has a great appreciation for the history of the game, but he also loves the little absurdities that make the NHL what it is. At the end of each chapter there is a coda named “Strange but True” that highlights an incident that rises above the general craziness. What does Harrison Ford have to do with the Colorado Avalanche? What owner almost traded his entire franchise? Why did the Red Wings play a bunch of convicts in 1954?

Not only does it give you a nice general idea of how the league evolved, it also gives you wonderful stories to talk about at dinner parties (if we’re ever allowed to have those again). The book is reminiscent of the type of banter that used to take place on the radio during rain delays in baseball games. Which isn’t a coincidence. McIndoe talked about his approach in a Reddit AMA in 2018:

“I’ve just always been interested in the history aspect, especially the weird stuff. I used to love watching the end of a blowout, because then [sic] when they run out of things to talk about and suddenly the color guy is telling some crazy story from the 70s and you’re like ‘wait, is he making this up?’ “

Along the way he does dash a couple of commonly held hockey myths (the Original Six aren’t really the original six teams in the NHL) and provides some nice anecdotal details (the reason a Mr. Rogers hockey card exists).

The most important aspect of this book is that it is entertaining. It’s not a long read (hardcover is only 249 pages long) and it moves at a pretty good pace.

Who is this book for?

One of the worst reading experiences is buying a book thinking it’s about one thing, and then finding out 100 pages in that it’s nothing like you were expecting. So, for starters, this is not an in depth history of the league. If you’re looking for a detailed breakdown of how the league was formed and how it developed over it’s first century, you’re not going to get that here.

Instead, it provides an excellent general lay out of how the league evolved from its early days to the multibillion dollar business it is today. What McIndoe leaves out in regards to the minutiae, he makes up for in absurdity. For instance, when writing about the fallout of the Jim Schoenfeld/ Don Koharski “Have another donut” incident,

“The search for replacement officials was on, with McCauley [John McCauley, supervisor of officials] eventually assembling a ragtag of amateur hockey officials. Paul McInnis, Vin Godleski and Jim Sullivan. They took to the ice in borrowed skates and sweaters, with the linesman wearing bright yellow practice jerseys that looked like raincoats, which led to the game being dubbed Yellow Sunday.”

If you’re not that familiar with the league’s history before the Lightning entered (hey that’s me!) It’s a great introduction to some of the more absurd things that happened. The book is an excellent jumping off point to dive into some of the shenanigans.

That’s great for casual or newer fans. Those looking for a little more depth in topics will be left wanting. There is a chapter entitled “The Greatest Season Ever”. While he does a pretty good job of hitting the highlights there is no way that everything that happened in the 1992-93 season can be contained in nine pages.

There are other books out there that can provide that type of detail if you’re looking for it (A Season in Time by Todd Denault is a good one for the 1992-93 season). For the new fan or the current fan looking for the absurd, head-scratching stories that make this league what it is, McIndoe’s book is the perfect read.

What’s in it for Lightning fans?

Everyone’s favorite Florida-based team has enough weird history for a book of its own so it’s not surprising that they do make an appearance in one of the “Strange but True” chapter breaks. Yes it involves a fax machine. Other than that, there are a couple of small mentions (including a great Phil Esposito quote in regards to the expansion draft), but that isn’t surprising considering that the book is written in a loosely chronological order and half the book is over before they enter the league.

There are some more passing mentions to the team such as the Stanley Cup getting stuck in traffic during the Blackhawks/Lightning Finals and an offhand mention of the team drafting Steven Stamkos. Honestly, there are enough entertaining stories about the league in general that I didn’t feel like they were slighted in the least. If he was to include every entertaining anecdote about every team then he’d still be writing. There has to be a cut off at some point.

The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL by Sean McIndoe, Random House Canada

Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle on Amazon or through independent booksellers at bookshop.org