BOOK REVIEW: “A Season in Time” by Todd Denault

A Season in Time

A Season in Time: Super Mario, Killer, St. Patrick, the Great One, and an Unforgettable 1992-93 NHL Season

by Todd Denault

John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

$40.00 on Amazon and $11.99 on Kindle

There are few sports seasons I have loved more than the 1992-93 NHL campaign. I saw my first and only game at Maple Leaf Gardens on December 5, 1992. It turned out to be the famous “Down Goes Brown” game, where clean and steady Leafs defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, during an uncharacteristic scrap, shockingly punched out Chicago Blackhawks tough guy Rob Brown. The legendary radio call can be heard in this highlight clip:

But most of all, I will remember the drama of April, May, and June. Growing up in NHL-free Cleveland, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my childhood hockey team, and for the first time in my life, they were actually pretty good. Led by one of the best two-way centers in the game, future Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour, the Leafs finished with 99 points (long before NHL inflated their standings with shootouts and loser points), then upset the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. By the time their playoff run had ended in game seven of the conference finals, the Leafs played 21 games in 41 nights, and I was at Lucky’s, a hockey bar in uptown Athens, for 20 of those 21 games. (I missed the seventh game of the Red Wings series because I was in Cleveland.)

Their playoff run produced one of the most electrifying moments of my sports fan life, when Gilmour did a spin-o-rama reverse behind the net to jam home a double-overtime playoff winner against the St. Louis Blues:

Many of my memories from the 1992-93 season are from those playoffs. I also went to Lucky’s on non-Leafs days. I just couldn’t get enough of that particular postseason. I have never loved hockey more than I did that spring. I somehow held up my grades at Ohio University, but it was a miracle given that hockey consumed every waking moment of my life. If I wasn’t talking about the previous night’s games and fretting about that evening’s matchups, my friends and I were busy pre-playing the upcoming contests with NHL ’93 on the Sega Genesis.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered “A Season in Time: Super Mario, Killer, St. Patrick, the Great One, and an Unforgettable 1992-93 NHL Season” by Todd Denault. Not only did the book dust off many great (and a few painful) memories, but it also offered so much more depth and big-picture focus than I was able to absorb over the course of the season as it happened. This was before the internet and cell phones and ability to instantly access any information that your heart desires. I primarily followed the NHL in the newspaper back then, plus whatever games and highlights would appear on ESPN. (And even ESPN wasn’t all that accessible to me since our dorm rooms weren’t wired for cable back then. We had one communal TV in the Shively Hall lobby.)

With “A Season in Time”, however, I got to experience that amazing season in a way that was impossible during my freshman year in college. Rather than presenting a straight chronological recap of the season, Denault spends the first part of the book jumping from story to story. Some of these stories are standalone tales, such as the saga of rookie Eric Lindros, the launch of new expansion teams in Ottawa and Tampa Bay, or how the wheels came off of Mark Messier’s season with the New York Rangers, just one year before he would lead them to their first Stanley Cup title in 54 years.

Many of the stories, however, build a foundation for what is to come in the second half of the book. When the story of the legendary playoffs is told, the reader is armed with the backstories that made the postseason so compelling.

As expected, the players listed in the title receive ample coverage. Mario Lemieux, coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup triumphs with the Pittsburgh Penguins, appeared ready to assume the mantle as the game’s greatest player while Wayne Gretzky battled a career-threatening back injury. Then came Lemieux’s shocking cancer diagnosis, followed by his triumphant comeback with the league’s best team poised for a three-peat. That is, until they were stunned by the New York Islanders. Doug Gilmour, the feisty 165-pound center nicknamed “Killer”, spearheaded a Maple Leafs renaissance on the ice, while Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns did the impossible job of quickly turning around the culture of the fabled but moribund franchise. Gretzky, despite a balky back and injury-marred season, led the LA Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance, once again becoming The Great One when his team needed him most against the Leafs in the Campbell Conference Finals. (Of course, he scored the overtime winner in game six moments after high-sticking Gilmour in the face and drawing blood. The referees conferred but didn’t have the guts to send him the penalty box like they would have if he were anybody but The Great One. Moments after play restarted, he unjustly scored the winning goal. Not that I’m bitter.) And then there was Patrick Roy, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, who ensured that “sudden death” befell his opponents by becoming impenetrable beyond 60 minutes, winning ten consecutive overtime games in the playoffs, as the Habs lifted the cup for the 24th time.

But even the non-cover playoff tales, such as the young and ascendant Quebec Nordiques, the upstart, Penguin-slaying New York Islanders, and the incredible playoff heroics of St. Louis goaltender Curtis Joseph made for great reading.

Drawing upon interviews with dozens upon dozens of players, coaches, and executives, plus ample research as evidenced by the copious endnotes, Denault paints a detailed and engaging portrait of what is considered by many to be the greatest season in NHL history. In reading “A Season in Time”, not only did I vividly relive a cherished period from my college days, but thanks to Denault’s efforts, I also experienced a lot of it for the first time, which made me appreciate the classic 1992-93 season even more. I never thought such a thing was possible. What a gift.

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