Walling: Cochrane writes winner about East Coast sports

Alex J. Walling
12/31/2011 1:04:03 PM
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I have never done a book review. This is maybe sort of one.

There are not many books on sports coming out of Atlantic Canada, or at least not many books dealing with people or athletic events from this part of the country. After all, we're less than three million strong in all of Atlantic Canada.

And next to Sidney Crosby, it is hard to think of an Atlantic Canadian excelling in sports.

Oh, there are some but they are not, as they say, top of mind. Now mind you, Halifax's Brad Marchand rates high these days.

The hordes of Sidney Crosby books don't count as he left Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia nearly 10 years ago, going first to Shattuck St. Mary's, a high level prep school in Faribault, Minnesota, then two years in Rimouski and then to Pittsburgh.

Chris Cochrane is a Halifax sports columnist and has a recently released book called "Inside the Game", which I think is neat.  It's a look at 10 stories that he covered or was associated with in his time which is close to 25 years in this city as a sports reporter and sports columnist.

In fact, these days, Cochrane is the only sports columnist in this market which has two daily papers.

Cochrane likes boxing and one of the top boxing matches in the last 30 odd years leads the sort of top 10. 

Back in the 80's, there were two boxing stars in Canada and both had a Nova Scotia background. One was a world class boxer who had several shots at the title in Clyde Gray and the other was Canadian Olympic boxer Chris Clarke.  They had two big fights, both selling out the Halifax Metro Centre. The first in late 1979 and the other the following year. Why wasn't there a third fight? It's in the book.

By the way, those are the last fights to sell out the Metro Centre.

Bill Riley was not Willie O'Ree but he was the third or fourth black man to play in the NHL and it's a journey that's worth noting. Riley played a lot longer than O'Ree. Willie played two games in 1957-58 and 43 more in the 1960-61 season.

Riley played 139 games over four different seasons with the Washington Capitals from 1975-79. Riley is from Amherst, Nova Scotia and the abuse that he had to go through on his way to the majors and in the NHL is worth reading.

Andrew Haley is a Paralympian and his is the story of grit, passion and determination. It's a story that takes the reader through many years in the water sport that Haley excelled in.

In 1973, the Time Magazine Sportsman of the Year was a horse. Yes, that was the year that Secretariat won the Triple Crown (the first to do so since Citation in 1948, beating the competition in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and destroyed the field in the Belmont Stakes.

Nova Scotia and Canada had the same sort of thing a few years ago, when the Newsmaker of the Year in Nova Scotia was Somebeachsomewhere.

Wherever the horse race wa,s he usually won it. He was bought for just a few thousand dollars and made millions for his Truro owners and this story is like a fairy tale with a happy ending.

Cochrane, who has been doing sports columns for a quarter of a century and puts out four columns a week, says the boxing story between Clarke and Gray started the genesis for the book.

"I didn't want people to forget the great fights put on by two Nova Scotians. They were two epic, classic confrontations that may resonate for a long time," said Cochrane. "For people who saw them, they were the Ali-Frazier fights of their time."

For Cochrane, it was also the matter of telling, and in some cases re-telling, the story but under another format and giving the subjects a lot of time for them to recollect the memories they brought to Maritmers, and in some cases, North America.

Doing a story of 3,000-5,000 words offers a much bigger chance to tell an in-depth story than an 800-word column.

One of the biggest breakups in all of Canadian sports history took place a few years ago when the most successful rink in curling, the Colleen Jones foursome, called it quits.
"Colleen and the rink talks about this issue very honestly," added Cochrane.

This group of ladies, which was so victorious, spoke frankly, honestly and candidly about the less-than-amicable split.

When I arrived in Halifax in the summer of 1972, the Nova Scotia Vees became the first Canadian team to win the Calder Cup, emblematic of American Hockey League supremacy.

But the Vees did not draw well at the old Halifax Forum. Names like Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden, Yvon Lambert and more could barely draw more than 2,300 per game.

The big sport, er, if you call it that, was wrestling. Nearly full houses greeted the wrestlers and that colourful chapter is talked about and discussed with some of the biggest names of that era.

Cochrane doesn't stick to the big three or four in sports such as hockey, baseball, basketball and football although some of these sports make the book.

College hockey gets a look with Saint Mary's winning their first national title three years ago with former NHL'er Mike Danton.

He leads with the Clarke-Gray fight but profiles a Canadian Boxing champ, Pee Wee Flint. In that chapter, Flint opens up on his use of drugs. It is graphic.

A singer, firefighter, pro boxer and world class snooker story is the tale of Kenny Shea. The adventures that this now 77-year-old has lived could fill a book on its own. Cochrane gave him a chapter and it's worth reading.

There has never been a book like it. It's called "Inside the Game".

The athletes may be from Nova Scotia but the stories written about Bill Riley, Andrew Haley, Colleen Jones and so many others are known across Canada and, for the likes of Somebeachsomewhere, North America, if not worldwide.

It is a very good read.

For I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J. may be reached via email at:

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