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Sports & Recreation Hockey

Go to the Net

Eight Goals That Changed the Game

by (author) Al Strachan

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2006
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2006
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2006
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2006
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Players and coaches of genius come along; rules and tactics and strategies evolve; careers ebb and flow. And the best way to see how the game changes is to look at the goals, the events that led up to them, and the way they change hockey history. From Canada’s ultimate hockey insider comes the lowdown on the personalities, the dressing-room banter, the chalk-talk, the sweat-stained passion behind eight of the goals that changed the game.

There are moments in hockey history that matter even more than the question of who won or lost, when a single goal can tell us about the game itself.

Among the most famous and stirring in hockey lore was Paul Coffey’s dramatic counter-attack in the 1984 Canada Cup against the USSR. Canadian fans were terrified of the dazzling Soviets, and were nervous about another drubbing like the 8-1 loss Canada had suffered the last time the two teams had played. Coffey’s pass interception and rush up-ice is now the stuff of legend, but it was not only the defenceman’s skill that won the day.

Glen Sather was as mindful of the vaunted Soviet attack as any Canadian fan, and he put together a game plan with one objective: to keep the puck away from the Russians. Once Coffey got the puck into the Soviet zone, it was Tonelli’s spadework along the boards and Bossy’s refusal to budge from the crease that allowed Coffey’s point shot to eventually find its way to the net. That goal beat the Soviets and changed the way the game was played forever.

Other goals were equally shaped by their time. Think of Guy Lafleur’s notorious “too- many- men- on- the- ice” goal in 1979, which effectively ended Don Cherry’s career as a coach. Or Wayne Gretzky’s overtime goal in Game Two of the Smythe Division finals in 1988 against the Calgary Flames, arguably the goal that marked the pinnacle of his career. Or Mario Lemieux’s 1987 Canada Cup-winning goal. Or Brett Hull’s disputed 1999 Stanley Cup-winner.

Al Strachan, whose insider hockey connections are second to none, was witness to all these goals. He has been writing about the game we love for more than three decades. Chummy with the players, respected by coaches, and friends with the broadcasters and journalists, he knows what is going on in the dressing rooms and the board rooms, and he understands what is evolving on the ice. He has talked to the men who made the decisions, as well as to those who made the plays. In Go to the Net, he passes on, in the trenchant style of his famous columns, insights into the goals that tell us not only about the way the game has changed but also about the gritty soul of hockey that will never change.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

Al Strachan is a journalist and former columnist for the Toronto SunThe Globe and Mail, and The Montreal Gazette. He was a regular commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and The Score, and The Satellite Hot Stove. Strachan has been writing about hockey and hanging out with NHL players, coaches, general managers, and owners for thirty years. He is a member of the media section of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Connect with him on Twitter @Winsford99.

Al Strachan's profile page

Excerpt: Go to the Net: Eight Goals That Changed the Game (by (author) Al Strachan)


It has often been said that baseball must be a wonderful game to withstand the people who run it.

That’s true not only of baseball.

Hockey, too, is a great game–a lot greater than baseball, in my opinion. And it has travelled a much tougher road than baseball when it comes to withstanding the impact of those who have directed its course.

Like most Canadians, I grew up with an inherent love of hockey. One of my fondest early memories is scoring on a breakaway for King Edward VII Public School in a game we won 1—0.

I try not to remember with the same degree of clarity that the only reason I got the breakaway was that I was so far behind the play that there was no one within thirty feet of me. And that the only reason I scored was that I fell as I approached the crease, took a wild swipe at the puck while sliding on my stomach, and somehow batted it past a goaltender who was too confused (or possibly amused) by this unorthodox approach to make the save.

In Windsor, Ontario, in those days, you were either a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens. Even though Detroit was right across the river, the Red Wings were generally viewed as the Evil Empire because they had the right to prevent the Windsor CBC-TV outlet from showing games the rest of the country was watching – and they exercised that right with disgusting regularity.

We were Detroit Tigers fans. We were Detroit Lions fans. But never the Detroit Red Wings.

I switched allegiances on a regular basis, rooting for whichever of the two Canadian-based teams was having a better season at the time. If the Leafs played the Canadiens in the playoffs, my choice that year would be determined by some long-forgotten whim.

As a hockey writer, I followed basically the same principle, but with a slight alteration: now I admired not just the best Canadian team, but the best NHL team.

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being a flack for almost every team in hockey – well, not every team. Only the good ones – a fact that puts the lie to the beliefs of thousands of readers who, upon seeing some criticism in print of their own favourite team, fire off nasty letters accusing me of taking this stance because I live in Toronto and am therefore in the pocket of the Leafs.

Suffice it to say, that isn’t a view that would receive a lot of support from the Maple Leafs themselves. As I said, my soft spot is for NHL teams that do well.

At the time I undertook to write this book, no NHL team was doing well. The owners had locked out the players at midnight, September 15, 2004, and there was to be no major-league hockey for the foreseeable future.

Nothing could have had a more profound effect upon the society in which I exist.
The hockey world is like a village, a small community of two thousand or so people in which, to varying degrees, everyone knows everyone else.

A tragedy that affects one member affects everyone. Consider how many hockey people from all over the continent turn out for a funeral for one of their number.

The common thread, the defining characteristic, in this “village” is not the location in which one lives – quite the contrary – but the avocation one holds.

At the core are the players. They are the elite tradesmen. Without them the lifeblood of the village would dry up. The NHL governors would be the landed gentry, the ones who own the means of livelihood. Their managers would be those same people who do that job in hockey – the general managers, coaches and assistant coaches.

The media? Well, they’re the village gossips, the ones who spread the news about who is doing what to whom, and how often.

But if you’re going to make the analogy work, you have to accept the premise that there are two types of hockey media people/gossips.

There are those who cover a number of sports, whose knowledge of hockey ranges from abysmal to acceptable and who are basically visitors. They are comparable to migrant labourers who merely visit the village when their job demands it.

The other type of media person is the specialist whose life revolves around hockey and who rarely gets involved with any other sport. These are the hometown experts. Some would say they’re idiots savant, capable of rambling on about the minutiae of the game for hours – even days, weeks, months and years – on end, but incapable of intelligent discourse on any other subject. That may or may not be true. Certainly some of them come perilously close to fitting that description. But for better or worse, this is the group to which I belong.

When you’re in this group, you’re a genuine resident of the village. You may not be accepted as an insider by everyone, but you are certainly “one of us.”

You are recognized and called by name. Like any village resident, you have your detractors and your confidants. You are part of alliances that evolve and devolve over the years. You share with the other residents the inherent details of life on this planet as they relate to each other – births and deaths, illnesses and recoveries, marriages and divorces, joy and sorrow.

The hockey village isn’t just a place to live. It is your life. You can never get away from it.

Other people go home in the evening and watch television. If you do get home at all in the evening–if you’re not in an arena covering a game – you watch hockey from cities across the continent.

Other people go out amongst society and discuss a variety of subjects. You go out and face the hockey questions of the day. In the autumn, people want to know about their favourite team’s chances. In the winter, it’s the issue of the moment – a suspension, a firing, a slump or a hot streak. In the spring, the impending playoffs are the subject du jour, as well as the cornucopia of potential trades before the deadline. In the summer, it’s the playoffs themselves, followed closely by the draft and the free agents.

Rarely do those you meet in the larger world want to talk to you about the things normal people use as a basis for discourse–recent movies, current events, the weather or the latest political scandal. They want to talk hockey.

Underlying it all is the implicit assumption that if you write about sports for a living, you’re mentally incapable of discussing anything else. Either that, or they’re simply not interested.

As a result, the inclination of those within the hockey community to rely on each other becomes even more pronounced. You tend to restrict your circle of associates to people of like interests – the other residents of the village. You have friends in every major city in North America, as long as that city has a hockey team.

Your closest friends are people to whom the phrase “Thank God It’s Friday” has not the slightest relevance. Saturday and Sunday are working days like all the rest. There will be days off, but not generally on a weekend.

All of which is to say that when hockey is your life, not your pastime, and the owners decide to shut down your sport – as they did in 2004 – you know how the people of Morrisburg, Ontario, felt when they learned that the government had decided to flood their town in order to create the St. Lawrence Seaway.

This is hockey’s darkest hour, and unfortunately, there’s no reason to put any faith in the adage that the darkest hour is just before dawn.

Hockey has had its ebbs and flows, its peaks and valleys. Like the other sports, it has evolved over the years, and a cursory study of natural history would indicate that the course of evolution is not a steady one. There are periods of rapid progress and periods of slow, gradual development. And periods of stagnation.

We don’t know what the game will be like when it comes back after this latest trauma, but we do know where it has been. At the moment, by virtue of stirring victories in both the 2004 World Cup and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, not to mention other recent triumphs in junior hockey, women’s hockey and the world championships, Canada is the reigning hockey power in the world.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“[Hockey fans] want the inside dope and they get it here in eight readable and revealing segments.”
Edmonton Journal

Go To The Net is much more than a description of eight goals. . . . It’s big-league hockey history with big-league depth.”
–CP Wire

“Al Strachan, a Toronto Sun columnist and commentator on Hockey Night in Canada, takes readers into the press box, dressing rooms and board rooms in this thoroughly enjoying yarn about some of the goals fans have seen replayed a zillion times, as well as a couple they may have forgotten about.…Strachan does more than merely describe how the puck came to cross the goal line.” — Winnipeg Free Press
"One of Canada’s most respected and knowledgable hockey writers…” — The Calgary Herald

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