"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!

Book chronicles 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 life.

This a good example of what it's like to play on a team.

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 good.

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