Sheldon Kannegiesser with the Los Angeles Kings — 1975.

What readers are saying

When I heard your book was poetry, I said, “no thanks—real hockey players don't write poetry!” But then a friend gave me your ‘Hock and McKey’ poem to read about the roots of ice hockey, and I laughed so hard it made my sides ache! I would never have believed I could have so much fun reading this stuff! I went out immediately and bought several copies of your book for friends who love it!

Dave M., Ontario, Canada

As a woman who's never had an interest in sports and knows absolutely nothing about hockey, it's hard to believe I could enjoy this book so much! It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry (especially your poem “Donuts!” about Tim Horton). I love the rhyme and rhythm of these poems—it's addictive and what's more, you've turned me into a hockey fan!

Leslie B., Santa Barbara, California

I'm a long-time hockey fan and have to admit I've always enjoyed the fights. The way you describe them so vividly and colorfully in your poems ‘The Irish Rebellion,’ and ‘The Mighty Hutch,’ made me feel like I was in the middle of the action. Knowing these fights were actual events is the best part and puts this book over the top!

Robert G., Ventura, California

There are no words I can use to describe the ‘Series of '72’ except that it's absolutely brilliant! Reliving the events of that Series in rhyme was amazing! The colorful and descriptive language is gripping and could only have been written by someone with an intimate, inside knowledge of the game, and a rare gift for the written word.

Jerry L., Ontario, Canada

‘Blueline Balladeer’

Sheldon Kannegiesser always had his face in a book when he wasn't playing hockey; now he's penning poems about the game.

By Monika Moravan

March 1, 2010
1970s Sheldon Kannegiesser - Los Angeles Kings

Sheldon Kannegiesser's poetry is inspired by his days in the NHL.

“Now I’m just one warrior with this simple tale,
But I swear to heaven every word is true,
And every Warrior of Winter from Howe to Gretzky
Has a distinct, yet similar, tale for you.”

excerpt from Warriors of Winter

Sheldon Kannegiesser's tale, contrary to the lines penned in the title poem of his book Warriors of Winter: Rhymes of a Blueline Balladeer, is quite dissimilar from that of the typical retired professional hockey player.

The North Bay, Ont., native's pro career spanned 11 seasons, including 366 games and 81 points over eight years manning NHL bluelines, starting with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1970-71 and finishing up as a Vancouver Canuck in '77-78. The journey-man's longest tour of duty was four seasons with the L.A. Kings. Pretty common story, right? Not quite.

“All the years I played hockey the guys would laugh at me because I was always the guy on the airplane with a book under my nose,” Kannegiesser recalled. “I had a couple of subjects that started out as hobbies, but they were so intriguing and mentally challenging that I stayed with them: theology and economics.”

Oddly enough, ‘Shelly’ was not much of a reader during his school days and didn't make it past Grade 11. Not much of a card player either, he turned to books during long flights. Even so, poetry was not on his road trip reading list, especially not the work of Robert Service, whose work Kannegiesser now emulates.

How did this self-proclaimed ‘blueline balladeer’ end up writing crisp, clear and concise poetry that takes your eyes off the page and your feet onto the ice?

“One of the key guys in Hollywood, my good friend Stan Barrett, used to do all the stunts for Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman,” Kannegiesser said. “Stan and I had lunch one day and he talked about wanting to move on to something else because he couldn't handle doing the stunts anymore. I was thinking, ‘I'm out of hockey now – what am I going to do?’ Stan recited some lines from the Robert Service poem The Men That Don't Fit In. I saw myself in that poem.”

He went out and bought a large volume of Robert Service poetry, memorizing that poem to use in his numerous speaking engagements. He also put all his reading on economics to good use, creating several successful businesses specializing in the development of financial products for banks and insurance companies.

“I'm known as the guy with a new idea every 30 seconds,” he said. “Everything looks exciting and new to me so I went off trying to build this company and that company.”

Sadly, the business success didn't carry over into Kannegiesser's love life. “It was the mid-life crisis, the wife runs off with a guy and I'm raising my two boys alone – they were four and 11 – and I was running six businesses at the time,” he said. “Life was really crazy. I couldn't continue running up the side of a mountain like I had in the past with all the businesses. I started shutting them down, selling them off and stayed home for six years; I was the original Mr. Mom.”

That's when Kannegiesser finally got around to writing poetry instead of just reading it. “I would sit down in the evening to gather my thoughts and all of a sudden I found they were flowing off my pen in a Robert Service rhyme and rhythm,” he said. “From that day forward I would sit down and write.”

While Warriors of Winter is Kannegiesser's first published book, he has another volume of poetry called Cut to the Core dealing with more esoteric matters. But hockey sells.

“After my speaking engagements, everyone would ask about my hockey stories so I used this gift I have to write Robert Service-type poetry and applied it to my NHL years,” he said. “I thought it could become a best seller and it's on the way there now.” His first print run sold out and he has ordered another 10,000 copies. There were even plans to have an old friend, Don Cherry, read some lines on his ‘Grapeline’ radio show.

“My game plan with this book is working and it's starting to explode,” said Kannegiesser, now 62. “I find myself spending more time in the shipping and handling business than the writing business.”

Or the donut industry, despite being pitched on it by a former defense partner and roommate in Pittsburgh named Tim Horton. “I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Tim, I don't think it's gonna work’,” Kannegiesser recalled.

Biggest giveaway of all time? “No, because I was able to turn it into a great poem. The stories I tell, I sprinkle some salt and pepper on them, but for the most part, except for ‘Fearless John Hock’ and ‘Mighty Michael McKey’ they're all true stories.”

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