Eddie Shack never won any major individual awards in the NHL and isn't in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet, over 35 years after he last laced up the skates for an NHL game, he is still one of the most recognizable icons in Canada.
There are those will argue that Eddie Shack remains Canada’s most recognized faces. Shack last played NHL hockey in 1975 with the Toronto Maple Leafs yet the boisterous man with the huge, infectious smile and the nose to go with it could be picked out of a police suspect line-up by nine out of every ten Canadians.
Clear the Track: The Eddie Shack Story is a 273 page, in-depth account of the man dubbed ‘The Entertainer’, written by close friend Ross Brewitt in 1997. Brewitt spent countless hours with Shack to figure out what made Eddie tick. He interviewed countless people close to Shack, including friends, family and fellow NHL hockey players and they all brought insight to the story.
Eddie Shack was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. He played National Hockey League hockey from 1958-59 to 1974-75 with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres. Over his career he won four Stanley Cups and played in three All-Star games. Eddie was the first player to score 20+ goals with five different teams. To date, only one other player has accomplished this feat.
Throughout the book, the focus is on the fact that Shack never learned to read and write. Also brought to light is the fact that he was never without money, was a greater hockey player than coaches allowed him to be and an extremely intelligent person despite his handicap. Many hockey people state in the book that Shack possessed the skill set equal to the greatest to play the game, such as Gordie Howe, but was reduced to a lesser role by his NHL coaches.
This excerpt from page 144 is probably the funniest passage in the book and says it all about Eddie Shack:
“When the goddamn penalty is over, Shack,” Imlach roared, “I want your ass straight to the bench. Don’t even look anywhere else. Just get to the goddamn bench.”
Shack’s face took on the glow of an idea. “But, George, what if I get a breakaway?”
Imlach lost it. “I don’t give a s**t if you get six breakaways, goddamn it! I want your sorry ass on the bench.” Then, after sputtering various obscenities, he stormed out of the room.
Shack looked around at his subdued teammates and nodded, as if to say, “Now there’s a great coach, eh?”
As the last five seconds of Shack’s penalty wound down, he began pawing the floor of the box with his skate, making whinnying noises. Then, when the door was yanked open, he came out of the chute like a rodeo bronc. “Yaaahhhhhhhh!” he bellowed, barrelling across the ice in a beeline as no else in hockey could. Finally, with warp speed, he dived headfirst over the boards, taking out the stick rack, Gatorade canister, medical kits, and trainer Frank Christie, who later admitted he would have ducked if he’d thought Shack wasn’t going to stop.
“Fast enough for you, Punch?” Eddie asked...
The book is a really deep and personal look into the life of an often misunderstood Canadian icon. One of the conclusions that Brewitt comes up with in the end is that if Eddie Shack had learned to read and write, he wouldn’t have been Eddie Shack. It was the handicap that perhaps created the intriguing personality. Although an incredibly smart man, Shack just wouldn’t have been ‘The Entertainer’ if he’d been able to attend university or college. He might have turned out to be the guy in a suit and tie instead of the legend in the cowboy hat with the cigar hanging between his lips while he drives around town in a dune-buggy, talking and joking with everyone in sight.