Each fall a wave of new non-fiction hockey related books are published right on time for the Christmas gift season. In recent years, I've become more interested in collecting these books, especially the storytelling variety. As I get into my mid-40's (scream emoji) I suppose I am also harder to buy a gift for, plus my small Toronto apartment is now at "peak stuff," meaning getting something new often requires something old has to go, however there's still lots of room for new books to stash on my bookshelf, and these hockey stories books are great to read both right away, and then again a few years later.
One new book for this season is written by Mike Commito and titled Leafs 365: Daily Stories From The Ice. I had the chance to ask Mike some questions about his book, and the whole process of taking the idea to write a book like this to getting it published. Mike was kind of enough to give us a peek behind the curtain, sharing the process of creating his new book and also a look at its content, which any Leafs fan will enjoy.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How the book came together
My first question is what started your passion for hockey and to become a Leafs fan? Did you play as a kid, was it geography, family, a specific player...?
My mom was always the biggest Leafs fan in our house, so I think I gravitated naturally to them. I always loved playing hockey when I was a kid, but I never graduated beyond backyard rinks and frozen ponds. In fact, the first time I played hockey with full equipment wasn’t until I was 29 years old. Now I play more as an adult than I ever did as a kid.
But going back, I was also an avid hockey card collector. I loved reading the stories on the back and learning where players came from, so I think that’s where my passion for hockey history began. Some of my first memories of watching the Leafs were in the ’93 playoff run.
I was eight years old and my favourite players were Doug Gilmour, who was my mom’s favourite player, Wendel Clark, and Felix Potvin. Geography did also play a part in my love of hockey. When the Leafs took on the Kings in the conference final that year, Dave Taylor was with LA. He was from the same small mining town, Levack, that my dad grew up in, so we always had a rooting interest in him. But I would say my mom is definitely the reason I became a Leafs fan, so it was only fair that I dedicated Leafs 365 to her.
I see you have written similar books before, and this is the newest in a series, so what was the genesis of your decision to start writing. Was it a passion project? A personal development challenge to see if you could really do it? What inspired you to do make something like this?
I started writing about hockey as a creative outlet while I was doing my PhD on the history of black bear hunting in Ontario [Species: that is one fascinating PhD]. I actually think one of the first things I wrote online was a fan post for PPP in which I argued that James Reimer should have had a higher rating in NHL 13.
From there I started writing my own blog that focused on history and hockey and then I got some paid writing opportunities. After doing some stories for outlets like VICE Sports and Sportsnet, I had started to build up a bit of a portfolio. I was also doing daily hockey history on Twitter and wondered if I could combine the two pursuits as a book. At the time I was actually under contract with a university press to turn my dissertation into a book, but I had been struggling to work on that and I figured maybe it was time to move on.
So, while I was on a beach in Mexico in February in 2017, I said to myself that when I get back I am going to write a hockey book that had 365 stories, one for every day of the year. I sketched a rough outline on the plane ride back and then when I got home I got the university press to release me from my contract, which was pretty easy since they weren’t paying me any money, and then looked for a literary agent.
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, it appears most old PPP Fanposts have been lost to time after our migration off the VOX Media platform, so we could not locate Mike's old post about NHL 13. This is a good example of how changing business interests, corporate bankruptcies, and data hosting services routinely purge old content, or render it inaccessible. Never expect your personal files to be available in some "cloud" literally forever. All this is another good reason to buy the physical copy of this book!
When you mentally committed to doing this project, how long at that time did you think it would take, and how long did it actually take to see it through to the end? Were there any bumps in the road or specific challenges?
After having done two books like this, I had a good outline of how long it would take to write Leafs 365. For the first Hockey 365, I had a very tight deadline and it proved to be pretty stressful at times. When I wrote the second book in the pandemic, I gave myself a bigger window and it was much more enjoyable.
With that in mind, the publisher and I started taking much earlier about Leafs 365, so I ended up having the biggest runway so far of any book. I believe I started writing in April 2022 and submitted the first draft just before Christmas. For every book, I know how many stories I need to write, 366 (to account for leap years), so I always sketch out how much I need to write every day. This process actually consists of me making big calendars on bristleboard and then dropping 366 pennies all over them to visually map out my writing process. Cutting-edge, right?
So, honestly, for this one, there weren’t too many challenges or bumps in the road because I had given myself plenty of time to do the research and writing, and of course, as a Leafs fan, writing about my favourite team made the process even more sweet.
You are using Dundurn Press as your publisher, how were you introduced to them and why did you choose to work with them on the book?
I was introduced to Dundurn Press for the first Hockey 365 book when they were interested in moving forward with the idea. At the time I had a literary agent and he was shopping the book around and we landed on Dundurn in Toronto. They are one of Canada’s largest independent trade publishers and I’ve been working on them ever since.
Is there any one piece of advice you would pass on to aspiring young authors out there considering writing for the first time something like this?
For writers looking to publish their first book, I would say make sure you do your homework. Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you need to go through a literary agent to shop your idea for publication. I got burned by my literary agent because I didn’t understand the publishing world. I assumed that the deal he was selling me was standard and I accepted it at face value because I wanted to publish the book. I only found out how raw of a deal it was a few years later after he passed away and I was looking for new representation.
On a more upbeat note, I would say that you just want to make sure you give yourself enough time to research and write the book. Writing a book is no small feat, whatever format it is, so in order to really enjoy the process, because ultimately, writing a book should be fun, make sure you have enough time to pull it off.
So what's in the book?
This brings us to the important part, what's in this book and why do you need to read it? The book literally goes day-by-day through the year with a Leafs-related story for that date.
I asked Mike about what challenges he had filling out a book with literally one story for every day, and of course, what is his personal most memorable story.
Is the book literally one story per day, or do you have some days with bonus facts, or honourable mentions? How and why did you choose this format?
While it’s called Leafs 365, it’s actually 366 short stories about the Leafs. I’ve always accounted for leap years, so each book has an entry for February 29th. But yes, each story represents a day on the calendar so, for example, October 12th is about when Auston Matthews made his NHL debut in 2016.
There are no honourable mentions or bonus facts, but I’ve heard this before, and I might have to borrow this idea for future books. Even with team specific books like the Leafs, there are usually competing facts and it would be great to highlight what else happened that day, but then again, there could always be a Second Period of Leafs 365 and I wouldn’t want to give all my material away. [Species: a savvy businessman here!]
Was there any day where you had to agonize over what fact to use and what to cut out because there were too many significant events to choose from, something perhaps like free agency day on July 1?
The opening of free agency day is always a tough one because there have historically been so many signings on that day, but I went with John Tavares signing in 2018 because for me that truly felt like a transformational day for the franchise. I also remember being so excited by the signing that I went out onto my deck in my favourite Leafs shirt and attempted to chug two beers at the same time. My wife filmed it, but I didn’t succeed so when I uploaded the video later, I got chirped by a lot of non-Leaf fans, so I felt I had to include a reference to that in order to acknowledge and atone for my failure.
But beyond days like that, I didn’t agonize over it too much. I always tried to choose the most historically significant moment to the franchise, but there are definitely times in which my perspective and fandom won out and there are moments on days that are special to me as a Leafs fan. The most agonizing stretches of the book writing process was when Mitch Marner was on his point streak in the 2022-23 season and the 2023 playoffs. When Marner was on his heater, I kept thinking that I’m going to have to include that even if I had already locked in my stories for those dates in November and December. In the end, I just included one story to serve as the entry point for that magical streak and it all worked out.
I was much more stressed during the playoffs. By that point the book was complete and we were going through the final editing and proofing process, but I knew if they beat Tampa I would have to put that story in there because it had been nearly two decades since they won a playoff round. I ended up ditching the story I wrote for April 12, which was about when the Leafs beat the Islanders in 1978, to include the Game 6 victory against the Bolts. As a Leafs fan I was overjoyed but as a Leafs author there was a small part of me that wondered what would happen to the book if they went on a deep run. I started thinking about all the stories I’d have to change and maybe how whole the tone of the book might need to change if they, dare I say, won it all.
Unfortunately for Leafs fans, but fortunately for me as the author, that didn’t happen, but I would be more than happy to have to create an addendum next year when they win the Stanley Cup in 2024.
Were there days where you couldn't find anything at all of significance to write about? I wondered if there would be a joke page in the book at some point in August where it was remarkable as the one day where literally nothing has ever happened for the Leafs?
A few no-Leaf fans have liked to joke that it might have been pretty difficult to write about June since that is the month we associate with deep playoff runs, particularly the Cup Final. I do poke fun at this for one of the stories in June and acknowledge that the team has never played a game in June. They came close in 1993 and 2021, but otherwise I had to rely on trades, transactions, and birthdays for that month.
There were definitely a few days in July and August in which I couldn’t find a record of signing or a trade so I used birthdays. I tried to avoid birthdays in the first two Hockey 365 books, but it’s almost impossible to avoid them entirely in team specific books because you’re drawing from a shallower pool, but I actually kind of embraced the birthdays because it gave me the opportunity to highlight a player or something they did that didn’t come up elsewhere in the book by using their birthday as an entry point.
The pandemic actually helped me with August because of the bubble hockey tournament but otherwise, it gets pretty thin in the dog days of summer and sometimes you have to think outside the box.
If you have to pick one specific day and story, which one is most personally memorable or significant to you as a fan?
No question it was when Auston Matthews made his debut on October 12, 2016. Not only is this an important moment in hockey history as no rookie in the modern era had ever scored four goals in their debut, but it was personally significant for me because it was the first Leafs game I watched with my daughter. My eldest daughter, Zoe, was born two weeks earlier, so we put her in this Leafs onesie that was definitely too big for her, but she slept in my arms for the entire game while Matthews made history.
I feel like that game has already entered the lore of “where were you when that happened,” but I think that’s what’s so special about hockey history. You're not just reliving that moment, you are being transported to a particular moment in your own life and maybe that will bring back memories of watching a game with your family or how a particular player or team reminds you of someone else. I hope that Leafs 365 allows fans to relive the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also reflect on what some of those stories meant to them on a personal level.
Leafs 365 is available at bookstores next week on Wednesday October 17, however some online bookstores are accepting pre-orders. You can find all three of Mike's books available at the Indigo store here or at other online booksellers like Amazon, and also your local bookshop can certainly order you a hardcover copy too.
I asked Mike one last question about the Leafs, the most important one, and also the most difficult...
What is your prediction for the coming season?
I'm going to put it all out there. The Leafs will finish at the top of the Atlantic and then win the Stanley Cup, forcing me to joyously issue an addendum for Leafs 365.