MANITOULIN—Former NHL great Reggie Leach, the Riverton Rifle, may have had one of the deadliest shots in the NHL, scoring 381 goals and 285 assists over his 934 games in the NHL and setting a number of professional hockey records that stand to this very day, but it took some serious coaxing before he agreed to write a book about his career.
“A lot of people over the last 10 years had approached me,” he said, “but I wasn’t really ready for it yet.”
But a couple of years ago a number of things came together that made him decide to wind up and take a shot at that particular net.
“I was approached by a couple of publishers that I had a lot of respect for,” recalled Mr. Leach. “Dawn (his wife) and I checked into them and I decided that it was time.”
But while a career in the NHL may teach you hard work and discipline, it doesn’t really prepare most people for the art of putting thousands of words down on paper. “I had to find a ghost writer that I could work with.”
Despite having spent much of his life under the steady gaze of the sports media, Mr. Leach is at his heart a gently private man, not a recluse by any means, but someone who does not open up to someone he does not trust. “I needed to find someone I liked,” he said. Mr. Leach interviewed a number of candidates suggested by the publishers before finding the perfect candidate, writer Randi Druzin.
Ms. Druzin is an accomplished writer, having published ‘Between the Pipes: A Revealing Look at Hockey’s Legendary Goalies’ through Greystone Books, but she was also very well versed in all things hockey, which helped immensely when it came to tracing the events that took place over his 13 seasons in The Show.
Finding a ghost writer to assist him with translating his memories into print was just the very beginning in a very long process. “It was long, over 16 months of going through stuff,” he said.
Mr. Leach had very definite ideas on how he wanted to proceed with the work. “It was through the Seven Grandfathers’ teachings,” he said. “I wanted to teach young kids not to make the same mistakes I did.”
The hockey legend noted that he had many struggles through his life that provided him with many valuable lessons, each and every one learned the hard way. “You learn from your mistakes,” he said, “but don’t try to use that as an excuse.”
Over the course of the year-and-a-half writing process, Mr. Leach had a number of sit-down, face-to-face meetings with Ms. Druzin, but after the first few meetings the duo settled into a rhythm of meeting electronically through Facetime. “I have an iPad and that worked very well,” he said.
Pulling up memories of events that took place decades ago presented their own challenges, the veteran right winger agreed, but Ms. Druzin and Mr. Leach’s wife and family were of great assistance. “They helped pull it out of me,” he chuckled, adding that they were also very good at keeping him on track.
“She (Ms. Druzin) was really good at stats and everything else,” he said. “She knew everything.” Having someone who was diligent in her research made working together much easier.
“We would talk for a while and then she would go away and put it down, then I would read it, if I liked it we would move on,” he said. “I had the last say on everything.”
Of great importance to Mr. Leach was that the book be written in his words, not filled with fancy eloquence, but in the down-to-earth language of a lad from Riverton, Manitoba. At first the writing that came back was speaking back from the page in Ms. Druzin’s words. “But she came to understand when I explained to her that this book ‘is my truth, not yours’,” he said.
The result worked out very well, producing a book that is a very easy read.
He also was not interested in writing a “tell all” exposé filled with the dirt on his NHL colleagues, his focus was to be on his own experiences and lessons learned. “Everybody seems to think it is a ‘tell all’ book—it’s not,” he said. “I had my struggles with alcohol, but I have dealt with that. It was just a small part of my life.”
Mr. Leach said that there are too many books like that out there, but asked if he pulled his punches, he shot back that he “did not pull anything.”
“I made some bad choices,” he admitted. “But too many people try to blame everybody else.”
Once Mr. Leach had gone over the section completed by Ms. Druzin, the material went on to the publisher. “The publisher went over everything and there were a few things they wanted changed,” he said. “But I told them ‘this is my book and I want them in there’.”
The only moment where the Riverton Rifle found himself checked in the book writing process was when it came to the number of photos that would be included in the book. “I would have liked to have seen more,” he said. But in the process of deciding which photos would make the book he found some hard decisions lay ahead. In the end, the photos that were chosen do a good job of illustrating the many facets of his life.
After almost two years, Mr. Leach signed off on the final product and at the end of September, just before its official release, he had the first copy in his hands. “It was great to see,” he said.
Since then, Mr. Leach has been criss-crossing the continent doing the obligatory promotional book tours and the reaction to the book has been outstanding.
“We are going into its second printing,” he said.
‘The Riverton Rifle: My Story—Straight Shooting on Hockey and on Life’ is available in autographed hardcover at The Expositor bookstore in Little Current.