If you read my review of George and Darril Fosty's Splendid is the Sun, you'll recall that the book purports to contain revelatory information about the ancient history of hockey, but in reality is merely page after page of baseless conjecture. It is plainly and simply pseudohistory, without merit of any kind. It's a waste of paper.
You might have heard of their more recent book, Black Ice, which is a history of the Nova Scotia-based Colored Hockey League. The book was marketed quite extensively, through the internet and a short film that was broadcast on ESPN. Several claims were made about the Colored Hockey League, for instance that a black player invented the slapshot, that the league was the first to allow goaltenders to fall to the ice to make a save, and that the Colored League players were equal to any white players in the countryif only mainstream historians would admit it.
This type of aggrandized promotion might lead you to expect Black Ice to be just as bad as Splendid is the Sun. But such concerns aren't warranted. The Fostys do indulge in their favorite pastime (baseless assertions), such that claims are made without evidence (some of which will be discussed below), but this book is far better than the first. It doesn't suffer from the rampant pseudohistory of the previous work; the book is actually worth reading for the historical information it contains on a subject worth writing about. You just have to ignore the Fostyan excesses, and maybe skip the chapters (unfortunately, there are a few) that aren't really relevant to the topic.
Black Ice is a difficult read, in the sense that a thorough editing is sorely needed. The same can be said about Splendid is the Sun, to be honest. From this review and the last, you might notice that quoting the Fostys work is a sic-ening experience. For an extra bonus, try to parse this sentence from page 85: "It would be their lack of uniformity that would impact on the abilities of the teams to initially compete at a higher level than their true potential." If you can figure out what that's supposed to mean, please let me know. Poor writing and editing doesn't necessarily mean that the content is poor as well, but it doesn't promote confidence.
Although background material is important in a subject like this, the book is supposed to be about the Colored Hockey League. Of 22 chapters, hockey is really only the subject of chapters 7-14, and 19, which means that only 40% of the book is dedicated to hockey. They've focused too much on the background, for a hockey book. For instance, the information provided on Canada's involvement in World War I is far too detailed, and irrelevant to the subject. They had much of the same information in Splendid is the Sun; this tendency betrays the fact that the Fostys are military historians by trade. Black Ice would be better with a tighter focus on its intended subject manner. There are sections you can skim over without affecting your understanding of the Colored Hockey League.
It's interesting to note, however, that the Fostys never actually present any evidence of the Colored Hockey League as such. The book's tagline indicates that the league operated from 1895 to 1925, which is certainly a significant amount of time for a league beginning in that era. The only other league that I know that existed continually from 1895 to 1925 is the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). Moreover, from the description of the games and championship matches played in the book, I got the impression more of a loose association of hockey clubs rather than an actual hockey league with an executive and directors empowered to make decisions and set schedules. Games seemed to be arranged on a challenge basis, with individual teams making arrangements with other teams to play. On several occasions two clubs both claimed that they had won the season's championshipone would think that if there were a league in place, someone would have the power to decide who was champion.
The Fostys seem to lack understanding of how hockey clubs operated at the time. On page 94, they state that:
At the end of the 1899 season the Sea-Sides organized themselves officially as an amateur athletic club with James Parris as President. Interestingly, the team would feel the need for a Treasurer T.G. MacDonald. This indicates that the clubs and players involved were acting as semi-professional rather than recreational teams.
This conclusion is seriously flawed and demonstrates a lack of understanding about hockey in that era. Nearly all organized hockey clubs had treasurers. They needed treasurers to handle team finances, but the mere fact that a team had finances does not mean it's professional or even semi-professional. Teams had to pay the rinks for rental of ice time, for travel costs, and often to hire the referee as well. Often teams would also pay for banquets for visiting teams. Just because the team was handling money does not mean the players were receiving any cash for their play. Indeed, typically players had to pay dues each year to retain membership in the club.
As much good and interesting information that Black Ice might contain, the Fostys can seemingly not get away from their habit of making baseless assertions. It's worthwhile to have a look at some here, to debunk some of the claims that might seem plausible at first.
They claim that the first slapshot was invented by a black player, specifically Eddie Martin. The claim has been often repeated in promotion for the book, however in the book itself the claim is a bit more cautious (p.114): "Martin was said to have had an incredibly hard and accurate shot. Descriptions of his play indicate that he may have been a pioneer of the slap-shot."
No examples of these descriptions of play are provided; you just have to take their word for it. To me, if a shot can be described as accurate, it was likely not a slapshot. I'm also not convinced that the sticks being used at the time would even be capable of producing a slapshot. A slapshot is more than hitting the puck really hard; you need to hit the ice just before you hit the puck, producing a whipping effect with the stick. Sticks were generally shorter and thicker in those days; I'm skeptical that contemporary sticks were capable of that.
The Fostys claims that the Colored Hockey League was the first to allow goaltenders to fall to the ice to make a save. Their evidence for this is that they allowed it before the Pacific Coast Hockey Association did it (p.87):
Today, hockey's Hall-of-Fame brothers Lynn [sic] and Frank Patrick and their Pacific Coast Hockey League [sic] are recognized as the first individuals and league to allow goaltenders to play in this manner. This is false.
This may well be false, but it is a strawman. (And it's Lester, not Lynn. Lynn was Lester's son.) The PCHA was the first major hockey league to allow goaltenders to fall to the ice to make saves, which is what is intended by most making the above argument. But if you want to include all hockey leagues, as the Fostys seem to, you have a much greater burden of evidence than what they have provided in the book. In order to establish that the Colored Hockey League was the first league of any kind to allow goaltenders to do this, you must prove that all hockey leagues across the country that existed before that time did not allow it, which is a heavy burden of evidence. They compare the Colored Hockey Leagues only to the PCHA, and that's insufficient to establish what they want to establish.
Probably the biggest baseless assertion in Black Ice is the claim that the black teams of the Colored Hockey League were not only on par with white Nova Scotia teams, but the equal of any team across the country. We'll look at the evidence for this claim (or rather the evidence against it) next time.