Hail Cesare!: A Book Review

Jason Farris, author of Behind the Moves, and currently a member of the front office for the Dallas Stars, has written a number of hockey books. Behind the Movesa book I reviewed last fall, presents the reader with an in-depth look at the history and current status of hockey’s general managers. One of Jason’s first books, Hail Cesare!, describes the evolution of goaltending in the 1960’s and 70’s through the eyes and mask of goaltender Cesare Maniago.

Maniago, born in Trail, BC, played for numerous NHL clubs, including Toronto, Montreal, Minnesota, and Vancouver. His story is an interesting one, and it is easy to see why Farris grew up following Maniago’s career closely. Maniago played junior hockey on the same team as Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich. His career goal-against-average of 3.27 is indicative of the period he played in, and his career postseason 2.67 goals-against-average is also indicative of how he elevated his play in big games.

The real highlight of the book is in its presentation. Unique visuals, including old stat sheets, photos, and comparisons between Maniago and his contemporaries are mixed in throughout interviews, analysis, and quotes from Maniago. As Farris states in his preface, he didn’t want to “write [a hockey book] that regurgitated known facts and anecdotes… information that can be found elsewhere.” Mission accomplished. Farris does a great job at conveying the rich history of goaltenders, something that I have come to appreciate thanks to the insights of DobberHockey’s (and now the Goalie Post’s) Justin Goldman. Farris shares Goldman’s passion for the position. It is easy to see with the amount of research he undertook to complete this book.

Being a young guy, I always enjoy reading about the history of the NHL. The goaltenders from this time looked and played incredibly differently than they do now – much smaller, both in terms of physical stature and size of equipment, much more instinctive, and much less polished. It made for a lot more goals, but it also made for some incredible characters that brought unique traits to the position (something we don’t see nearly as much as today).

Farris writes:

“My broader aim was to paint a picture of the evolution of hockey by way of a player who was at different times a pioneer for new generations and a throwback to the old guard who had manned the nets before him.”

The first part of the book breaks down Cesare as a person and a player. “I was very volatile like Billy Smith for my first six or seven years,” says Maniago. Smith, arguably the fieriest goaltender in NHL history, is a great example of the ‘incredible characters’ I mentioned above. Like Smith, Maniago meant business. “No regrets breaking ankles on my part.”

Maniago only started to wear a mask after Gary Bauman, his goaltending partner in Minnesota, took a Bobby Hull slap shot off the throat one game and swallowed his tongue (he ended up being OK). Maniago tried to wear the mask in Montreal, but legendary coach Toe Blake wasn’t a fan of it.

Maniago played with the likes of Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, and Gump Worsley. Maniago said that in Toronto he and Bower had to share the same jersey, as there used to only be one jersey per team for goaltenders. Plante wasn’t the most well-liked among his teammates. “He was selfish to the point that no goal was his fault,” says Maniago.

The book is definitely written with the goaltending fan in mind, and as I mentioned before, I appreciate the position and the rich history that comes with it thanks to Justin Goldman, and now, Jason Farris.

The book can be picked up here.