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O'Sullivan memoir a tough read

Book Review: Former NHLer reflects on abuse



Patrick O'Sullivan writes early in his memoirs that he wouldn't have told his story unless he felt it was absolutely necessary.

Admittedly a private person, the former NHLer explains he would have preferred to live a life he didn't feel the need to broadcast his personal details.

But early on in Breaking Away: A Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph (written alongside Sportsnet features writer Gare Joyce), O'Sullivan addresses the purpose for publishing the book, which came out earlier this fall. He doesn't want anyone to experience what he did.

O'Sullivan, who played for five NHL teams but most famously the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers, lived with parental abuse from the tender age of eight — all in the name of hockey stardom. While he's admittedly not advancing any groundbreaking parenting theories, he's "a survivor of exactly how not to raise a kid."

The book's first half details the well-documented abuse O'Sullivan dealt with at the hands of his father, John, a failed minor-leaguer whose anger issues, aloofness and unending obsession with toughening up his first-born damaged the lives of both. Dead set on getting Patrick to blossom into an NHL superstar, John went to any length necessary to find higher leagues for his son to play in — Patrick played against players as old as 21 when he was just 13.

He also would wake Patrick in the middle of the night or pull him from classes to make him work out. Any mistakes in games or practices, no matter how miniscule, would result in being kicked out of the car to chase after it for miles in the middle of winter, being locked out of the house at night when he was just wearing pajamas, or severe beatings.

While a member of the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga IceDogs, the younger O'Sullivan called the police on his father after being abducted following a game in Ottawa, driving to Toronto and enduring a beating on his grandparents' lawn. John served jail time for assault and Patrick filed for a restraining order, though it was regularly violated.

Though his pro career lasted eight seasons, O'Sullivan dashes through them relatively quickly. This isn't a typical sports memoir, quite clearly. Whereas other, happier stories would focus on the bumpy rise to the world's top league and rehash lighthearted anecdotes about some of the game's beloved players, that's not the aim of this book. It's not meant to be a light holiday read that could easily be imagined as a chance run-in with an ex-sniper at the local tavern.

As challenging as it was to read some of the abuses O'Sullivan suffered, the final 50 pages rivalled that. Here, O'Sullivan had decided to write his memoirs, and after spending much of his story delving into why his life turned out the way it did, he traces the trail back to each coach he had growing up to determine how it was allowed to happen. He asks what they knew, catching some deniers in a lie, finding some old-school minds that saw nothing wrong on the surface, and encountering some who tried to help behind the scenes, but didn't do quite enough.

It's a stinging critique of not only the bystander effect, but the hockey culture mindset as well.

O'Sullivan is working hard to get his post-hockey life on track, starting with a worthy read that attempts to keep others from veering off.