An E-mail Interview with Hockey Author Matthew DiBiase
By Patrick Hoffman
Several weeks ago, I was honored to have been able to conduct an e-mail interview with hockey/New York Rangers' author George Grimm.
This time, I present to you hockey fans an e-mail interview I did with another hockey author, Matthew DiBiase. Matthew has written a few hockey books and I wanted you folks to get to know him and his work better.
Here it is:
PH: Growing up, how did you get into hockey?
MD: I got into hockey around April 1973 when the Philadelphia Flyers lost the Semi-final round of the 1972/73 playoffs to Montreal—who won the Cup that year. I followed the Flyers during their two year reign as Stanley Cup champions from 1973/74 to 1974/75.
My interest perked up again when Mike Keenan was coaching the Flyers during the mid to late 1980s. It died down for a time but it revived again in the 2010s.
PH: Who is your favorite team/player?
MD: Growing up in the early 1970s it was Bernie Parent. Whenever I played goalie in street hockey or in floor hockey during gym in high school, I always emulated Bernie’s classic style—with great results!
Today I don’t follow any specific team(s) but I do respect those teams that demonstrate consistency, excellence, a commitment to the fundamentals, and hustle like the Detroit Red Wings during the 1990s and the 2000s; the L.A. Kings in 2011/12 and 2013/14; the Nashville Predators during last season’s playoffs; the Vegas Golden Knights during this season!
PH: Considering The Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave is filled with tons and tons of hockey memorabilia, what is your favorite piece of hockey memorabilia that you own?
MD: My cache of audio cassettes from the 2006 to 2010 when I was working on an abortive oral history book of the Original Six era that will never see the light of day. My favorite interviews were the 30 minutes I spent in April 2007 with the immortal Henri Richard in his kitchen and the day in 2008 I interviewed legendary goaltender Glenn Hall in the tool shed of his farm in Alberta (his house was being cleaned at the time).
PH: How did you get into hockey writing?
MD: I’ve been writing since I was 17 years old, but as mentioned before, I did the legwork for an abortive oral history of the Original Six era but couldn’t finish it in the way I wanted to.
When I began writing for Inside Hockey magazine I did a 50 part series on the greatest NHL coaches of all time as determined by a rating system I devised. It was that series of articles that became the framework for my first book Bench Bosses: the NHL’s Coaching Elite.
I was getting great feedback from my colleagues and the public at Inside Hockey and many suggested I make a book out of those articles so I did. It took me two additional years to refine and perfect my rating system (which is discussed in the book) and to complete the writing.
It was ready in 2013, but it took two more years for Fenn Imprints to release it to the public.
PH: Tell us about how you came up with the idea for your first book, Bench Bosses: NHL's coaching elite. What were you trying to tell/explain/convey to readers with this book?
MD: I am a professional historian by trade (I have worked for the National Archives and Records Administration since 1991) and I have this maxim which goes: History abhors a vacuum.
I was inspired to write Bench Bosses because no one had ever tried to isolate and identify the 50 greatest NHL coaches of all time using a metrical system. I had read similar books on Baseball Managers and NFL football coaches by authors Bill James and Sean Lahman, respectively.
Those works inspired me to do the same for hockey: to fill a void in the annals of hockey history; and to provide future hockey writers and historians with a frame of reference when writing and comparing NHL coaching greats.
Bench Bosses is meant to break new ground and expand the envelope of hockey historical analysis.
PH: Tell us about how you came up with the idea for your most recent book, The Art of the Dealers: NHL's Greatest General Managers. What are you trying to tell/explain/convey to readers with this book?
MD: During the 2012/13 season I wrote a 50 part series of articles for Inside Hockey about the 50 greatest NHL General Managers as determined by me using the same rating system I used for Bench Bosses. I let those articles gather dust for three years while I was working on my second book project about the 50 Greatest NBA head coaches of all time (which still hasn’t been published because my agent failed to secure a publishing deal but it will be published in 2020).
When my basketball book deal fell through I suggested to my agent that I polish up my articles on the 50 greatest general managers and augment them with 17 hours of interview material I gathered from 2016 to 2017 where I spoke to many former and active NHL GMs about their managerial methods and philosophies, great trades, and great coaching hires.
The end result is The Art of the Dealers: the NHL’s Greatest General Managers. Like Bench Bosses, The Art of the Dealers is a ground-breaking work. Never before in hockey literature or sports literature has an author isolated and identified the 50 greatest general managers of the four major North American sports using a metrical system.
Yes, there are bios and memoirs of sports general managers but no one has ever written a book like The Art of the Dealers. This book fills a void in the annals of hockey and sports research. It provides a frame of reference for any sports researcher.
It breaks new ground for future sports research. Imagine doing the same kind of book for Major League Baseball!? The Art of the Dealers also reveals the enormous power a general manager wields in any sports franchise.
Yes, games and seasons are won or lost on the ice and yet who’s responsible for getting those players on the ice? It’s the general manager. They and their subordinates draft the players; make the trades; and sign the free agents.
The great ones create winners, contender, champions, and dynasties; the mediocre ones just want to break even; and the bad ones ruin teams. That’s what this book does: reveal who the great ones are and how they became great in the words of the masters themselves.
PH: Do you have any books in the pipeline?
MD: I will be writing books for the next 12 years. I have many book projects coming.
I am presently working on a book which will reveal the 50 greatest college football coaches of all time which will be released in 2019. Next will come my pro basketball coach’s book in 2020.
After that I will take on NFL football coaches in 2022; followed by Major League Baseball managers in 2025 or 2026; and after that, followed by College Basketball coaches in 2028 or 2029.
I am even contemplating books on tennis players, golfers, race-car drivers, and maybe, even boxers if I live long enough.
PH: Anything else you'd like to share with us puckheads?
MD: My fantasy is that one day an NHL General Manager will use my rating system to help him choose a coach or else an owner will use my rating system to choose a general manager.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen but it took years for baseball to use Bill James’ methodology for measuring player excellence so there’s hope.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.