"Slap Shot" meets "A Season on the Brink" in this twisted tale of minor league hockey in the place with more pro teams than any place in North America: TEXAS!

Budd Bailey, Sports Book Review

You may not be able to tell a book by its cover, er, title, but you have to admit this is a great title. Zamboni and rodeo are two words that don't normally go together, but it works in the context of this book.

For Cohen has written a book about pro hockey in Texas, of all places. As you may know, Texas has more professional hockey franchises than any other state. The leagues have resembled accordians over the years, as teams have come and gone, but the interest is there. It's difficult to get any information about hockey's answer to
Double-A baseball, and that's the obvious appeal to someone who isn't in
the immediate area of the Central Hockey League. What's the game like down
there at that level?

Cohen spent portions of the 1997-98 season with the Austin Ice Bats, and wrote a book on his experiences. It turns out that hockey in Austin has more in common with NHL hockey than you'd think. Cohen gets a great deal right here. The bus rides are a legendary part of the sport at that level, and he has the feeling of those long rides down. Yes, the buses sometimes don't work, and players have to eat at Dairy Queens at times. The problems of a particular team - power play not working, lack of an offensive defensemen - can be found anywhere.

It's also amazing how many connections there are to hockey of other levels. Many of these guys are fresh out of junior hockey, where they played with someone famous. There's also some other, more unexpected ties. Former NHL players Blaine Stoughton and Paul Lawless are involved with Austin's front office. Bruce Shoebottom, who played for the Bruins in the late 1980's, pops up with Austin at the end of his career. Brian Curran, who bounced around a few teams in the NHL, turns up in the Western
Professional Hockey League here. Brent Hughes, another ex-Islander and Sabre, later
became the Ice Bats' coach. It is one big fraternity.

My biggest fear was that a book written about the 1997-98 season would be hopelessly dated, but that wasn't really the case. It's not like I followed Austin's season or knew many of the players, so it all came out fresh. And the experiences of those involved are pretty timeless.

Now here's the bad news. As profiles of seasons go, this is a
little formless. Cohen didn't spend every waking moment with the team that season, and I found there were gaps in the narratives. That made it difficult to follow the season as it went along. It wouldn't have taken much, just some well-chosen paragraphs, to avoid a lot of confusion. My basic question going into the book was, "How good are the players?" After reading this, I still don't know. There's plenty of talk of guys not being ready to play "in the next level," but I didn't get any perspective on the overall quality of play. That hurt the book.

I also took the step after a while of printing out the final stats of that team from the Internet Hockey Database. I turned that into a reference point for looking up players as I read, and it helped a great deal. Plenty of players come and go here, and it would have been much easier to follow them with a roster. More pictures - with captions right on the page - would have been nice too.

Still, I'm glad Cohen succeeded in getting this published. It's a quick read that satisfied my curiosity about a subject, and you can tell Cohen cares about the team and his players. And if you order it directly from his Web site he'll send you an autographed copy.

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