"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!

By Brendan Savage

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

PERHAPS the most interesting aspect of life as a minor-league hockey player is what happens off the ice instead of on it.

Everybody can see the on-ice happenings simply by purchasing a ticket. But few get to see what happens behind the scenes, in the dressing room and on the bus as the players and coaches spend six months together trying to win a championship while making a few bucks.

Writer Jason Cohen paints a dead-on picture about what minor-league life is like in his new book, "Zamboni Rodeo." It follows the Austin Ice Bats of the now-defunct Western Professional Hockey League during the 1997-98 season.

Cohen, a writer for Austin American-Statesman, was given unlimited access to the Ice Bats. He was the in dressing room before games and rode the bus with the club to all of its road games.

Although the book follows a WPHL team, it could just as well be the Flint Generals he's talking about. Take it from someone who's been on a couple of lengthy bus trips with the Flint Bulldogs and the Generals: Cohen tells you exactly what life is really like in hockey's lower minor leagues.

He tells you who's feuding with whom; he describes the trials and tribulations of rookie coach Jim Burton, who was fired before the season ended; and he details typical problems such as broken-down buses, inadequate accommodations and what motivates someone to sacrifice his body every night for a sometimes-meager paycheck.

The fast-paced story is an easy read that will be of interest to all hockey fans, especially those of the Generals and the United Hockey League.

The Ice Bats of '96-97 had two players with ties to the Generals - former defenseman Ken Ruddick and current forward Tim Findlay - as well as several others with UHL ties.

Cohen talks to players about themselves, their aspirations and how their view their teammates. His description of Ruddick is exactly the same way several of his former teammates saw Ruddick when he was in Flint - a player with unlimited skills but little heart who was soft and selfish.

Findlay is a big part of the story since he was among the Ice Bats' top players during his rookie year, which actually was supposed to be played in Flint. But after one day in the Generals' training camp, Findlay changed his mind and went home to Windsor, where he repacked his bags and headed for Austin.

Other Ice Bats' players that UHL fans will recognize include Muskegon alums Kyle Haviland, Brett Seguin and Jason Rose as well as and current UHL players Ryan Pawluk of Port Huron and Christian Soucy of Elmira. Former Generals' goalies Chris Gordon, Bryan McMullen and Rob Laurie played against Austin and are also mentioned.

The book, published last October by GreyStone Books, won't be available in the United States until spring. But it can be purchased in Canada or online (www.zambonirodeo.com).

The cost is $21.95 in the United States and $32.95 in Canada.

It's a must for minor-league hockey fans.

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