Preds' Peterson recounts battle with Parkinson's in book
Brent Peterson, a former Preds coach battling Parkinson's, and his book are faring better than expected.
By JOHN MANASSOFS Tennessee
When Jim Diamond first approached Brent Peterson with the idea of writing a book about the former
Nashville Predators associate coach, Peterson thought no one would want to read it.
How wrong he was.
On the day that Diamond made his suggestion, Peterson had announced publicly that he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and had to resign as a coach as a result. Parkinson’s affects the way the body produces dopamine, a chemical that sends signals to the part of the brain that controls movement. Those who suffer from Parkinson’s can lock up physically and suffer stiffness, slowness of movement and tremors.
Peterson’s resignation came at the end of the 2010-11 season. He had worked for the team since it entered the league in 1998 and had always dreamed of becoming an NHL head coach.
That emotional day marked the realization that his dream would never come true.
The announcement also came at a stage that Peterson recounts in the book -- Diamond, a Nashville-area writer who is part of the Associated Press’ coverage of the team, ultimately prevailed upon him -- when he was feeling sorry for himself. He tells how Michael J. Fox, who also suffers from Parkinson’s, told him over the phone that he could not feel sorry for himself, which helped inspire Peterson to start a charity.
Peterson, who spent three decades in the NHL as a charismatic player, assistant coach and front-office executive, has gotten past that stage and has evolved into a high-profile spokesman who creates awareness around the disease. All proceeds from the self-published book, titled “My Toughest Faceoff,” go to his Peterson Foundation For Parkinson’s.
(Diamond, who did not accept a fee for his role, said he does not know how many copies the book has sold. Unlike the traditional book publishing industry, in which a publisher prints a fixed number then prints more when each edition sells out, Amazon prints “on demand.”)
On Saturday, Peterson will speak and make a presentation to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association in Nashville. The event also will include a book signing, which have proved popular. At the team’s final home game of the regular season in April, so many people were lined up for a pregame signing that Peterson and Diamond had to return at first intermission to accommodate the number of people waiting.
It helps that Peterson is a gregarious and affable type who enjoys a joke or two -- traits that come out in the book, which is told in Peterson’s voice. The book has found a following among hockey fans and those and their families who have been affected by Parkinson’s alike. On Thursday in a phone conversation with FOXSportsTennessee.com, Peterson, who remains a consultant with the Predators, discussed the reaction he has received.
“It’s been great,” he said. “The people have been great. ... People tell me, ‘I cried and I laughed. I cried and I laughed.’ I didn’t want anybody to cry but I guess it’s pretty touching at times, but I didn’t really want it to be sentimental. I wanted it to be funny and to talk about all the things I’ve gone through and if it can help out somebody else that someday might have some same situation.”
The humor and the seriousness of the book come out in the chapter that Peterson said is his favorite. He underwent a much-publicized surgical procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The procedure has greatly aided Peterson’s mobility; without it, he said he thinks he would be confined to a wheelchair by now. However, prior to that, Peterson said he was undecided about whether to undergo the procedure, which entails a heavy physical toll, in terms of patients having to go off their medication for several weeks and the subsequent recovery.
In typical self-deprecating style, Peterson recounts how he stubbornly resisted several tests, such as naming as many animals as he could and trying to name as many words as he could that begin with the letter “A.” Despite his self-sabotaging attempts, the doctor told him he could have the surgery: “'We will let you be a candidate for DBS even though you are a dummy,'” the book reads. “So this dummy went through the four-stage process of DBS in December of 2011.”
For readers who have not had a friend or loved one diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the chapters about hockey provide the kind of inside look at life in the NHL of which even media rarely gain a glimpse. Several chapters involve legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who won the Stanley Cup a record nine times and under whom Peterson played for years. This chapter is Diamond’s favorite, and it also happens to be the favorite of this correspondent.
Bowman was infamous for the mind games that he played with players and Peterson seemed to rank at the forefront of those with whom the coach toyed on his Buffalo Sabres teams. The book recounts how Bowman essentially forced Peterson into a brief retirement and into life as an assistant coach for a few games midway through Peterson’s playing career: “’You can’t keep up to (Denis) Savard,’” he said dealing a serious blow to my ego. “You aren’t good enough. I called Jersey’” -- the worst team in the NHL at the time -- “’and even Jersey doesn’t want you.’”
A few games later, after Bowman tore into several players in front of the entire team, Bowman told the Sabres, “’Peterson is the only one I can rely on,’ Scotty announced to the group. ‘He wins faceoffs and he checks the other team’s top players.’”
After that, Peterson went back into the lineup and in the next game Bowman played him more than he ever had.
Peterson said when his former teammates read the book, they call him and tell him about the Bowman stories he left out, but Peterson confesses that he can’t tell them all. In one sense, Peterson -- and, as a result, the book -- have been lucky: the fraternity of hockey writers, broadcasters, coaches, executives and former players who know him have been eager to spread the word of the book. (Diamond said Predators general manager David Poile, who wrote the book’s afterword, told him Peterson carried the book around like his “grandchild,” on a road trip last season to Western Canada, where Peterson is originally from.)
As a result, the book has benefited from the publicity. Peterson said last week a check for a “couple of grand” arrived from Amazon, which will go to his charity.
Not bad for something he didn’t think anyone would want to read.