life behind scenes of a minor-league team
Blake Sebring, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
If Komets fans
ever wondered what it's like to actually play minor-league
hockey, they can get a pretty good idea from reading
read Jason Cohen's book "Zamboni Rodeo." Cohen chronicles
the 1997-98 season for the Western Professional Hockey
League's Austin Ice Bats.
The book gives an accurate portrayal of what it's
like to play in the Class AA minor leagues -- such
as the United Hockey League. Part of that is the players
are sometimes crude and usually profane. As Ralphie
said in "A Christmas Story," my father "Worked in
profanity the way other artists worked in oil or clay."
Hockey players are the same, but Cohen doesn't hide
the language. He also doesn't hide the fact that the
players like chasing women and drinking. He doesn't
glorify it, but he doesn't ignore it, either.
"Players keep coming up to me and saying you really
whitewashed it," Cohen said recently. "I figure telling
of a little of the drinking goes a long way. If I
had documented how often it happened it would have
been a bit much. Nobody has tried to punch me in the
face yet. I think I made a couple of guys squirm."
Cohen also shows their passion for the game and how
they often play it with the joy of little boys. It's
easy to understand why players often hang on until
the last moment before retiring and starting real
This a good example of what it's like to play on a
Fort Wayne fans will be interested in the several
former Komets who are part of the team. Brett Seguin
and Tim Findlay play large roles on the team, and
Bruce Shoebottom joins the Ice Bats late in the season.
Former great Komets defenseman Jim Burton is in his
first year of coaching, and the reader gets the sense
of how the rookie learns from his mistakes.
"Another coach under that kind of pressure might have
kicked me off the bus or shut me off," Cohen said.
"The WPHL was still very new. They were finishing
their first season. I think the idea that there's
no such thing as bad publicity applied."
Seguin's section is particularly interesting. He assesses
his career in the lower minors and how he has come
to accept that he's never going to move up, but he
wants to continue playing. At least he's honest with
himself and doesn't have deluded expectations like
some of the players.
There are also portions dealing with minor-league
entertainment staples the Hanson Brothers and Claude
Scott, otherwise known as "The Trumpeter."
The long bus rides and hockey player humor also are
hit on. The Ice Bats have an equipment manager who
is remarkably similar to the Komets' Joe Franke.
What's particularly interesting about this book is
that Austin is not a championship team. It's an average
team that struggles at times during the season to
find consistency and on some nights the effort needed
to play the game. The players gripe and moan about
the travel, the ice conditions and ownership. Every
team does it, and it all sounds just like the Ice
Bats. The bus rides are some of the book's best scenes.
The book also does a good job of showing how long
a season can be. Playing at this level of the minors
is not glamourous, it's work. Because they aren't
making much money, about the only reason players play
is to have fun. If they aren't having fun, the atmosphere
can be brutal.
Originally from Philadelphia and now a free-lance
writer in Texas, Cohen doesn't get bogged down too
much with game detail, though readers do get a sense
of how long the season is from the players' perspective.
He prefers to focus on everything else that affects
the players. He doesn't concentrate on the business
side of running a team much, but instead lets the
players tell their side of the story.
When Burton is fired late in the season, it's obvious
Cohen is as shocked as the players.
"This will be good for your book, eh?" Burton says
on the fateful day.
It's very good for the book, and the book is very