First off, a disclaimer. I was working at the Brandon Sun and covering the Brandon Wheat Kings when Don Dietrich was a defenceman on their roster.
Over the last few years, we have communicated infrequently, but often enough that I consider him a friend.
Now . . . let’s get on to the book.
While attending the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon, I picked up a copy of Dietrich’s book. And then, foolishly, I put it on the next-to-read pile and it got forgotten.
I rediscovered it recently and have since read it.
If you are a hockey fan, you absolutely have to get a copy of this book. Why? Because it will make you giggle. It will make you howl with laughter. And it will make you weep. You can't ask for anything more than that.
It is titled No Guarantees, with this subtitle: An Inspiring Story of Struggle and Success in Professional Sport and with Parkinson’s and Cancer.
Written by Dietrich, with his wife, Nadine, and journalist Brad Bird, this is an account of Dietrich’s hockey career and his personal battle with Parkinson’s Disease and a particularly lethal kind of cancer.
Understand that this isn’t a weepy biography by some old beaten up hockey player who feels life owes him something.
No, it isn’t.
Rather, it is a terrific read about a boy’s journey to manhood, about a young hockey player’s travels to retirement and beyond. It’s about a man who married a Penthouse Pet and, with her, raised three sons, two of whom went on to play in the WHL.
Dietrich provides a realistic look at life in the WHL, from the travel to the fighting and beyond.
But it is the tales he tells of his days in the AHL, the NHL and Europe that are so wonderful and often so hilarious.
Dietrich’s writing on being a rookie in the training camp of the Chicago Blackhawks — and also of being a young man from smalltown Manitoba (Deloraine) thrown into Chicago — is priceless.
At one point, the night before the first on-ice session of training camp, a group including Doug Wilson, Terry Ruskowski, Steve Larmer and Dietrich is about to order dinner in a Chicago restaurant.
Dietrich tells the story . . .
I’m looking at this menu and I see it’s stuff that I don’t know — and then I see, sirloin steak. That’s what I’m going to take. And I’m paranoid, because I’m looking around and trying to watch what other guys are doing and I’m trying to play the part. I’m sitting with four NHL guys and three or four future NHLers, and I’m just pumped. I’m just above everything. I’m sitting there and the girl comes up and she says, “So what’ll you have?” And she’s looking right at me.
I’m thinking, Why me? So I said, “I’ll have the sirloin steak.”
She said, “How would you like it done?”
Well, all my life it just came to me on the plate. At home, Dad cooked it on the barbecue and put it on the plate. At my billets, Ma Muirhead and Marnocks in Brandon, I came to the table and it was on the plate. Every Saturday night we had steak at home, it was on the plate.
I’m sitting there thinking, what does she want? I know Mom puts it in the oven. They don’t boil steak. I’m sitting there and I’m starting to sweat and the guys are looking as if to say, “C’mon, we want to order.” So I sat there and said, “Cook it.”
The table erupted in laughter.
Later, in an episode you may recall, Dietrich ended up at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He was to have played for Team Canada, however the Americans protested the inclusion of Dietrich, who had played six NHL games, and Mark Morrison, who had played two. The IOC upheld the protest, so Dietrich headed for home.
His retelling of his time in Sarajevo is an incredible story, and his journey home is even beyond that. You will read this part of the book and wonder how it was that the kid from Deloraine didn’t disappear forever somewhere in that European winter.
This is a soft cover book that is 200 pages in length. The writing is a little rough around the edges, which only adds to its authenticity. There are some incorrect spellings — Chris Nilan is Chris Nyland, Steve Yzerman is Steve Izerman, Pelle Lindbergh is Pelle Lindburgh — but they don’t ruin what is a great read.
There are marvellous stories from his days playing in Europe and a lot of insight into what a fringe NHLer goes through when he realizes his career is over.
And then, on Page 175, Dietrich is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. On Page 184, he finds out he has leiomyo sarcoma, which his doctor tells him is “one of the most active and deadly cancers there is.”
That was late in 1999.
In recent times, Dietrich has discovered that “at my home rink in Deloraine when my old pal (Parkinson’s) leaves me alone, I just go out on the ice.”
He helps everyone from six-year-olds to oldtimers, he told me in an email on Tuesday.
“You see,” he added, “Kelly McCrimmon told me one time, ‘Dieter, you have a wealth of knowledge in that noggin up there . . . why don't you start friggin sharing it’.
“SO I DO. LOL.”
Dietrich closed the email with this:
“So I have been doing good my friend thanks to hockey, the greatest game there is!!”
You can find No Guarantees at amazon.com ($20.87) or at trafford.com (also for $20.87).
Order a copy today. You won't be disappointed. I guarantee it.
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