Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL--The Untold Story of Hockey's Great Escapes Hardcover – Aug 7 2012
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From the Inside Flap
The Dream Was Escape.
Hockey Was the Ticket.
Current NHL rosters are packed with Central and Eastern Europeans, outstanding players such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Jaromir Jagr.
Until the Cold War ended in 1989, however, strict laws and harsh punishments prevented Eastern Bloc athletes from leaving their native countries to play for North American teams. Those caught in the attempt faced imprisonment, government retaliation against their family and friends, and the distinct possibility of being shot by twitchy border guards.
Despite these risks and the hardships faced by the relatives they left behind, a few daring playerslike Vaclav Nedomansky, the Stastny brothers, and Petr Klimafollowed in the path of the scientists and high-ranking military officials who defected to the West.
On their brief trips beyond the Iron Curtain for international tournaments, these sportsmen had glimpsed the comparatively free and affluent society of North America and the thrill of playing in hockey's most vaunted leagueand when they returned to their homes in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia, they could think of nothing else. Aided by agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall and team executives working with and against the Communist apparatus, these players found themselves agreeing to secret meetings and ambitious escape plans, all in order to fulfill their dreams.
Tal Pinchevsky has interviewed the stars who broke away as well as the agents, general managers, and others who were instrumental in their defection. As much a tale of espionage and social history as a gripping hockey chronicle, Breakaway sheds light on one of the greatest untold stories in sports.
From the Back Cover
"Breakaway reads like an international political spy thriller. A must-read for fans who want to know about the history of the game, who some of the great European players were, and the development of the global game as we know it today."
—Mike Smith, former General Manager, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, and USA Hockey
Until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union, athletes in Eastern Europe were prized as national heroes and afforded relative luxuries compared to other citizens. Better food, nicer apartments, the ability to travel, possibly even a car. But they still lived under the heel of a system that punished even the slightest transgressions or resistance to authority. Many accepted the conditions at home, but some sought a good life—not just a relatively better one. Risking imprisonment, retaliation against their families, or worse, a slow trickle of extremely talented hockey players defected to the West, seeking a life in North America with the NHL that they couldn't achieve elsewhere. Tal Pinchevsky traces their lives and the paths and dangers they faced, based on interviews he conducted with the players, their families, and the many people who helped them to break away.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The author won me over immediately by starting with the Czech star Vacalav Nedomansky's defection. Because the NHL so dominates hockey I'm glad the author did not forget the late great WHA and the Toronto Toros to whom Nedomansky played on.
His tale was the first but certainly not the most compelling. I found Michal Pivonka and Statsny brothers' harrowing adventures most enthralling. Peter and Anton Stastny and their families really had quite the escape. It was like something out of those John Le Carre spy novels.
This book also helps explains why it wasn't just culture shock that fueled the ups and downs of some of these players' NHL or WHA careers. There was the horrible situation family members left behind faced such as loss of jobs, constant surveillance, etc. There was the loneliness of it all in Petr Klima's case as he turned to drink before straightened out his career. The sheer fear for his life (unfounded in the end) in Pivonka's voice as his team Washington Capitals went on a pre-season tour of games in the Soviet Union is very very real.
Plus after reading this you'll gain much more respect for what these players went through even the ones like Slava Fetisov and the rest of the vaunted Green Unit (Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Alexander Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov) of the Central Red Army and USSR national team who "legally" transferred to the NHL.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
To summarize, this book takes a look more at the personal accounts of individuals who transitioned from Eastern Europe to play ice hockey in North America. If you watched hockey in the 80's and 90's, you will probably recognize many of the players referenced, which would definitely add to the enjoyment of the book. As someone born in the late 80's who never really experienced the Cold War, Breakaway did a tremendous job of painting the cultural picture within the Soviet Union. The book also does a solid job of highlighting the personal struggle to leave home and start over somewhere entirely different.
While the book did a good job of looking at the individual accounts of the era, I was hoping that it would touch on more politics and how Ice Hockey fit into the foreign policy agenda of the countries involved, thus the reduction of a star.
I found the book to be captivating, well written and edited, and while each story was independent and could be read separately, each chapter contributed to the greater theme of the book. This book not only introduced me to hockey in the Soviet Union, but has spurred my interest into the topic of sports and their implications on foreign policy,
If this was a rating for the Kindle, I would take off another star, simply because it seemed that the conversion from print to digital wasn't well done. After about 70% of the book, you are able to see the pictures of people and places that were referenced earlier in the book. I'm not sure if they are color photos or not, but the kindle is hardly the medium to display these photos, especially when cycling through each photo without a real context. There is also an index in this book, but there is no 'link' to the specific kindle page, so for example, if I wanted to go back and read about "Ron Duguay on page 70", I can't just click on that link and be sent to the correct page. There are little things like this throughout the book which detracted from the reading experience, but shouldn't affect how enjoyable the content of the book was!