The Hammer: Confessions of a Hockey Enforcer
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Hockey fans will remember the Broad Street Bullies, the Stanley Cup-winning Philadelphia Flyers of the mid-seventies whose winning ways were marred by the team’s willingness to brawl. In the vanguard of the fighting Flyers was Dave Schultz, a left winger who during four of his eight NHL seasons led the league in regular season and playoff penalty minutes, twice establishing season penalty records and once a Stanley Cup playoff record. Schultz, nicknamed The Hammer because of the pummelling he gave opposing players, “confesses” that the pugnacious manner in which he played was wrong for himself and hockey. Given Schultz’s historical “bad guy” image, his newly revealed stance against hockey violence seems incongruous. But therein lies the delight that separates The Hammer from the typical adulatory sports biography. Schultz attempts to persuade readers that The Hammer of the ice wars was actually a creation of the professional hockey system and that the real Dave Schultz has always been a gentle man. Acknowledging that he possessed but modest hockey abilities, Schultz maintains that his “goon” role robbed him of sufficient playing time to improve his skills. Though Schultz admits that no one even directly ordered him to fight, he “knew” that coaches, team mates and management expected such aggressive behavior. The fame and fortune that accompanied Schultz’s notoriety reinforced the violent style. Ultimately a number of factors led to Schultz’s leaving hockey. Central to his decision was his personal need to rebuild a hockey-damaged marriage. Additionally, young, reputation-hungry players successfully challenged an aging, dispirited Schultz so that his worth as a team policeman diminished.
Though the book essentially follows Schultz’s career chronologically, some chapters interrupt this pattern by spotlighting other hockey personages, such as Flyers’ coach Freddie Shero on team captain Bobby Clarke, whose portrayals by Schultz do not always match the popular image. An “Epilogue” details Schultz’s belief that hockey has deteriorated as a spectator sport and contains his seven suggestions for making hockey better. The paperback edition includes an update wherein Schultz comments on the continued violence in hockey since the publication of The Hammer’s hard-cover edition. Nine black-and-white photographs decorate the book’s middle, while Schultz’s career statistics complete the work. Fischler’s somewhat repetitive writing style is acceptable, though his description of Flin Flon, Manitoba, as being “located near the Arctic Circle” evidences poor geographic knowledge, since that community shares a similar northern latitude with Glasgow, Scotland, and Copenhagen, Denmark.