Throughout his hockey career, Jamie McLennan was surrounded by characters. Those characters only became more colorful once the current NHL Network and TSN analyst arrived in the NHL in 1994 with the New York Islanders, whose goaltending coach, Billy Smith, was one of history's most-feared netminders.
When McLennan retired in 2007 after 11 seasons with six NHL teams, he began toying with the idea of sharing some of his great stories in a book. But he had to calm the nerves of some former teammates first.
"Every player I talked to would laugh and say, 'Oh god, I hope you're not telling this story or that.' The thing I take pride in is I don't throw anybody under the bus," McLennan told NHL.com. "I wanted to give readers a little insight into what people are like behind the scenes."
Co-written with Ian Mendes, McLennan's book, "The Best Seat in the House: Stories from the NHL -- Inside the Room, on the Ice… and on the Bench," reveals a good-natured environment that could get intense at times. Teammates like Ron Hextall and Chris Pronger occasionally were prone to outbursts, but McLennan tells their stories in a way that actually makes these iconic players more endearing.
But McLennan's best stories ultimately describe his relationship as a backup to some of the game's top goaltenders, including Roberto Luongo with the Florida Panthers and Miikka Kiprusoff with the Calgary Flames. That supporting role to some truly quirky athletes is what makes "Best Seat in the House" an insightful look into a unique position in sports.
"As a goaltender, we see the game differently," McLennan said. "You have to read plays. Sit back and see what's really going on. I think that's why I was able to translate it into a book. The backup has got to bring more to the table than just playing every three weeks. It's the intangibles, knowing the details of the game that get overlooked. That's the insight you can give. That's one of the things I always prided myself on."
That insight is part of the reason McLennan has become part of the fraternity of former goaltenders working as television analysts. Glenn Healy, Kevin Weekes, Darren Pang and Greg Millen are just some of the other former NHL netminders who have brought a unique perspective to the game.
But while "Best Seat in the House" shares some of the unique relationships McLennan cultivated through his career, it's dedicated to a longtime friend he lost too soon.
McLennan's best friend, Dale Masson, played junior and college hockey, eventually competing in the ECHL before becoming a prominent lawyer in Calgary. But while running a road race in June 2009, Masson suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving behind a wife and two young sons. Committed to aiding his late friend, McLennan is contributing any profits from his book to the Masson family.
"His wife and two sons still need to live on, so I'm making sure the proceeds go to them," McLennan said. "I didn't get into this to make money. That's what's important to me. I know it would make Dale happy that the family is taken care of."
It's an added element to a book that helps shed some light on the life of an athlete who found a way to contribute, even from the end of the bench.
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