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Johnson’s 100 Things is a page-turner

At the outset, veteran writer George Johnson’s book 100 Things Flames Fans Should Know or Die Before They Die seems a bit daunting. It features a lot of content, boasting a length of 320 pages and bursting with information about the Calgary Flames. But once you dig into the book, it’s a shockingly informative and accessible tome that doesn’t seem nearly as long as the title boasts – in a good way.

A bit of disclosure, gang: I know the author. He’s a longtime local scribe, having spent many years with the Calgary Herald before transitioning over to working for the Flames website in recent years. When you begin to cover the Flames you never anticipate just how much time you’ll spend in hallways or in the stands waiting – for press conferences, for media availabilities, or just watching practice. In person, Johnson is a masterful storyteller with an eye for nuance and detail. The best thing I can tell you about 100 Things is that it almost perfectly replicates the experience of hanging out outside the Flames locker room and listening to him tell stories about covering the team way back when.

The book itself is basically 100 short stories, broken into 100 different (but somewhat connected) topics. The whole thing is laid out in roughly chronological order, with a few diversions here and there for thematic reasons – the discussion of the team’s arrival and early days in the Stampede Corral is logically followed by a discussion of the ’88 Olympics and the Saddledome’s construction. The 100 stories vary in terms of their length and the amount of depth they get into; some are dramatic, some are humourous, and some seem designed to poke fun at some of Johnson’s old favourites. (Kent Nilsson factors into a handful of stories, many of which provide some interesting colour about the Magic Man.) The book 100 Things probably compares best with is Mark Spector’s Battle of Alberta: Spector’s book obviously has a stronger narrative hook (the rivalry) and the opportunity to go more in-depth on topics, but Johnson’s definitely has stories that will appeal more to Flames fans. Battle of Alberta is more of a drill-down at the rivalry, while 100 Things is a cross-sectional look at the Flames franchise’s history.

If you’re looking for criticisms of the book, you could argue that it’s a bit too focused on the 1980s and 1990s and perhaps a little bit sanitized. Granted, the Flames were a wonderfully interesting team with colourful characters in their heyday and the arc of the team’s arrival in Calgary and ascendance is really interesting, but it seems like a majority of the fun in-depth stories were about the glory days. Fans looking for a deeper dive into the team’s more recent eras may find it wanting. While the book doesn’t sell itself as a tell-all, it misses some opportunities for some depth: for example mentions of Theoren Fleury gloss over his personal struggles somewhat and there’s very little discussion of the Marc Savard/Greg Gilbert feud that saw both guys ultimately leave town. There’s also a couple sections that seem out of place given the stories they follow, with a de facto group sales pitch for the Big League Experience and a brief discussion of CalgaryNEXT. Given the focus of the book – things for fans to know and do – their inclusion makes sense, but there’s a weird tonal shift between them and Johnson’s fun historical stories.

Overall, though, 100 Things is an excellent read. It’s the type of book you’ll open when you have a bit of time to kill, then realize you’ve read through half the book and your afternoon is gone. If you have a Flames fan in your life, it seems like a no-brainer for an easy Christmas or birthday present.

  • Sven

    I haven’t read it – but i would hope the 2008-2009 team is appropriately lauded as one of the greatest teams in modern NHL history…………

    from the Hockey News-

    The greatest (remarkable in magnitude), single-season NHL team in history is the 1988-89 Calgary Flames. How much did the Flames stand out in 1989? They ran up 117 points (54-17-9) in 80 games, while no other Western team managed more than 92 points. Calgary was second in the NHL in offense (354 goals), and second in defense (226 goals allowed). This made their goal differential a record plus-128! They ranked first on the power play (101 goals, 24.94%), second in penalty killing (82.93%), and were nearly unbeatable at the Saddledome, posting a 32-4-4 record.
    Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk scored 51 goals each. Goalie Mike Vernon won 37 of his 48 starts. Every player on the roster, except an aging Lanny McDonald (minus-1) was on the plus side of the plus-minus stat. Thirteen players were plus-20 or better, with two players at plus-45 or better. Eight Flames scored 50 points or more. Terry Crisp’s club won the Presidents’ Trophy, went 16-6 in the playoffs, and beat the vaunted Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Doug Gilmour, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury, Gary Roberts, Gary Suter, Hakan Loob, Joel Otto, Al MacInnis, and Lanny McDonald … enough said!

  • George Johnson’s work is replete with flowing, beautiful prose, but ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the way of meaningful substance.

    This book might be okay because the last time his words meant anything was in the 80’s

  • Thunder1

    Random Sean Monahan fact. He is currrntly tied for 11th in NHL goal scoring for bonafide number one centremen. Over the past four years he is eighth.
    Enough said.

      • freethe flames

        I can’t wait. Here’s my 2 cents worth from listening to the 3rd period, watching the highlights and reading the AHL game sheet. Gilles was good; does Huska go with him again tonight or does he play Rittich?(They play the Gulls again next week) Hrivik gives the Heat solid 1/2 depth at center but if Janko continues to play as he has he needs to be called up and seems ready to become the Flames #3 center; at the AHL level he is excelling at everything you want from a center, zone entry, puck distribution, goes to the goal scoring areas, and plays well defensively. There was a sequence in the third where they dominated on the PP but did not score; Janko was crosschecked and when the play ended made sure the defender was aware he was unhappy w/o going over the line. He now gets that he is a big guy and does not need to take crap. Also I always like not hearing stay at home D names very much as generally when you do it’s because they have got beaten. Last night I did not hear either Tspoon or AOM name mentioned very much other than AOM took his man out on the board and that they both made safe outlet passes; these are good things for a team. Looking forward to hearing your report. Would you start Gilles again tonight?

          • Stockton's Finest

            And free, you are reading my notes from last night? Your points are spot on. I thought Wotherspoon had his best game in some time. If he played like this during pre-season, he would be bottom pair and I would be watching Barksowski down here. It is clear the game has slowed down for Jankowski. Hrivik is strong and fast on both ends. This was a good signing. Cramarossa is a solid bottom 6. Lomberg still learning center. Poirier actually fits well with Pelley and Gazdic, but that is a question I am asking at tonight’s coaches chalk talk. Why is he buried on the 4th line. Also asking what is up with Austin Carroll.
            Look for my update tomorrow afternoon.

          • freethe flames

            Thanks for your insights. I have been following the farm teams for a few years now and trying to provide scores and sights from listening to games, watching highlights and reading the AHL game sheets and drawing conclusions from that. Based upon your in game responses, weekend summaries and these other ideas I think I have a reasonable grasp of the Heat not as good as yours as you see them first hand. I also like the questions you plan to ask Huska. I have said for a long time that I think one of the weaknesses in this organization is depth at center especially on the farm. Having good centers at the AHL allows the wingers to develop; Hvirik has added skill at the center ice position and it seems to help Shinkaruk and Foo. Crammerosa seems like a #4 center but seems to be playing up a spot. What happens when the inevitable happeds and Janko is recalled? If FHamilton is sent down can Hrivik become the #1 center and Hamilton the number 2? How much has Janko played a role in helping Mangiapne’s game or do they help each other?

  • Seattle_Flames

    I hope Peter Maher comes out with a book someday. I used to love his “this date in Flames history” on my drive home. No one can tell stories as well as Peter could.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Free, I think Janko helps him out, but I think Mangiapane has also grown. I think he has passed Klimchuk as the better prospect at LW. The best example of how Jankowski makes others around him better is Morgan Klimchuk. Last year, Morgan played top line with Janko and Mangiapane when Hathaway was up. He played great and scored. This year, with the exception of an empty net goal last night, he is undetectable. Mrs. Finest asked if he was scratched last night. He did awake a little in the 3rd, and I hope this EN goal gets him started. But last year he lit it up with Janko and then on 2nd line with Vey and Shinkaruk.
    The way they are playing now, I would move Shinkaruk to the 2nd line with Foo and Hvirik, bump Klimchuk to 3rd line with Poirier and Lomberg, and have a 4th line with Pelley, Gazdic, and Cramarossa.