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FtF Book Club: The Boys of Winter

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Why is the second-youngest person on staff reviewing this book?

FtF Book Club Getty Images/Fear the Fin illustration by JD Young

Hello and we’re sorry for taking so long to give you the second installment of the Fear the Fin Summer Book Club. We’ve missed some books I was really looking forward to.

Today’s book wasn’t on the tentative schedule but we hope you enjoy reading about my experience reading it anyway.

I’m probably the wrong person to be reviewing this book, though. The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team was published in 2005, when I was seven years old. It’s about an event that happened 18 years, four months, and 28 days before I was even born.

I didn’t even know about the Miracle on Ice until around 2012, when I was starting to become a real hockey fan in my early teens. I watched the 2004 Disney movie with my dad during Christmas break in Cuba.

I’m fully aware that I will never be able to truly appreciate the beauty of the Miracle in the same way as those who can recall it. I haven’t ever lived in the world of the Cold War; a few months before I was born, the amateurism ideal ended and NHL players appeared in the Olympics; my all-time favorite hockey player is a proud Russian.

And yet, the Miracle has stuck with me since first seeing the movie. If it resonates with me to the point that I am stung with tears during the Herbies scene in the movie, I can’t fathom the awe it held for those who lived it.

In The Boys of Winter, Wayne Coffey illustrates the lives leading up to the game and the lives lead after it. Yet the book isn’t simply a series of biographies; Coffey weaves the information in as he retells the game itself: he gives the play-by-play while highlighting the men who made the moments.

The hockey history of each American player is included, but not at the expense of personal profiles. Coffey details the skills of each player without forgetting he’s describing a whole person.

Coffey includes anecdotes not only from the players and staff, but family members, friends, former coaches, foes and the official neutral party of the game: referee Karl-Gustav Kaisla.

I learned a lot from the book, and not just simple facts and hard statistics. I learned that there wasn’t a single player from the state of New York on that team. I learned that the United States weren’t guaranteed a hockey medal until the end of the Finland game.

I learned that Herb Brooks was abusive. That’s really the only way I can summarize what Brooks did to the players. He manipulated them, humiliated them, blatantly disrespected them. Sure, he made them strong and brought them to the pinnacle of American sports — but in the process, he found and exploited their weaknesses and intentionally brought their psyches as low as he could.

I can’t say if the ends justified the means. I can say I have an even deeper respect for the players who made the Miracle on ice.