The Grim Reaper is the story of former NHL tough guy Stu Grimson.
During the course of his NHL career, Stu played with eight different teams – Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators.
Drafted by the Red Wings in 1983 (he was drafted in the 10th round) the Wings would also draft superstar Steve Yzerman 4th overall and then heavyweights Probert, Klima and Kocur to bolster toughness. Grimson compared themselves to the Detroit Lions Offensive Line. Unfortunately, Stu would not be signed by the Wings and would need to enter the draft once again.
After being redrafted by the Calgary Flames, he spent some time playing University hockey in Winnipeg. Fighting wasn’t allowed, so he had time to work on other aspects of his game in an attempt to become a more complete player. When the time came to make his NHL roster debut, he realized he could make it as an NHL tough guy after tangling with Edmonton Oilers enforcer Dave Brown. While Stu got the better of him in their first outing, the rematch saw Stu get tagged multiple times in the face. The result? A broken orbital bone. Grimson says this was his turning point that brought to light that old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
One of the more surprising parts of the book came when Stu admitted he had no interest in becoming a goon or enforcer. In fact, he would initially walk away from the Calgary Flames training camp because all they wanted him to do was protect star players and fight. While he would eventually fall into this role, it doesn’t mean Stu was suddenly OK with fighting. While he knew he could handle it, it didn’t exactly make the anxiety suddenly go away. Later in the book he discusses conversations he had with other fighters who noted they rarely slept the night before a game where they knew they’d have to go one on one with another heavyweight. He compares this to boxing and MMA where fighters may fight two or three times a year at most whereas NHL enforcers may fight two or three times a night. What that does to a person’s psyche is unreal. You can see it in the research coming out now about post-concussion syndrome and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). This was particularly eye-opening as players tend to glorify the rougher aspects of the game, and even though steps are being taken to protect players moving forward, those that lived through this era often view that as “ruining the game”.
My biggest issue with the book is that Grimson goes off on tangents from time to time where he recounts stories that take place over his career while playing with different clubs. The timeline begins to get a bit jumbled and sort of jumps around while trying to tie subjects together. I found it disorienting at times and had to re-read pages thinking I missed somewhere where he was now suddenly playing for a different team.
The book also touches on his days after hanging up the gloves. Grimson would finish law-school and become a practicing lawyer. He would work as counsel for the NHLPA as well as with a private law firm. He even touches on a legal scuffle he nearly had with Don Cherry. Today, he works as a color analyst for the Nashville Predators.
In closing, The Grim Reaper gets deep into the role of a career bruiser and how while fighting is often an essential part of the game, the mental fortitude it takes to stay within that role on the part of the player should not be overlooked.
Release date: October 15, 2019
I received an advanced copy from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.