Today we have an interview with Gregg Drinnan and Leesa Culp, two of the authors of Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos.
Caitlyn: Tell us about your book
Gregg: This is the story of the 1986-87 Swift Current Broncos and how they dealt with a bus crash in which four teammates died. But it’s more than that, because this team was run by Graham James, who, as it turned out, was sexually abusing at least two of the players. So there’s some of that story in this book. And two seasons after the crash, the Broncos won the Memorial Cup, so this book takes a look at that, too. It also touches base with several players who survived the bus accident, and there are some neat stories there. Kurt Lackten, the Broncos captain in 1986-87, now flies for Hawaiian Airlines, for example.
Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?
Leesa: I was actually a witness to the Broncos bus crash, but I blocked it out of my memory for over 20 years. Then I read a similar headline many years later, and it brought everything back like a tsunami wave hitting my nervous system. I read details of the accident scene and this incredible story just began to unfold. I contacted Brian Costello from the Hockey News, who happened to be on the bus, and my own incredible journey began. I chatted next with Bob Wilkie, a Broncos defenceman who later played in the NHL, and he was also interested in telling the story, so we began to collaborate. Finally, I was talking with the great Canadian sports writer Roy McGregor during the World Junior Championships out East, and he suggested we both contact sportswriter and WHL historian Gregg Drinnan to help us really put the tale together. Gregg himself actually covered the bus accident and the Broncos when he was writing for the Regina Leader Post. This story has never gone away, and it keeps coming up in the media year after year. It was definitely time to tell the whole story.
Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?
Gregg: We are hoping that fans of the Western Hockey League, and there are thousands of them, will read this book and that they then will get the word-of-mouth process started and that that will lead to other folks, perhaps non-hockey fans, taking a look. WHL fans are among the most avid in the sports world and there are few books out there that have anything to do with this level of hockey.
Caitlyn: How did you research your book?
Leesa: First and foremost, all three authors of Sudden Death including myself, Bob Wilkie and Gregg Drinnan, were personally involved with what happened and we all had three separate viewpoints, so that got the ball rolling right there. I was able to contact the Saskatchewan Archive Board to get access to the now defunct Swift Current Sun newspaper articles from 1986 to 1989 which covered the Broncos, and these articles provided additional insights. I used the internet to eventually locate and contact many of the survivors from the accident. Gregg is a noted WHL historian and was able to contribute a wealth of information about this story that wasn’t readily available anywhere else. Bob Wilkie and I even returned to Swift Current on two occasions to reconnect with former team mates and friends. I was also very lucky to find some amazing photos that are included in the book. One photographer, Lanny Church, had just donated his whole WHL collection to The Hockey Hall of Fame. With the help of Craig Campbell at the HHOF, I obtained the rights to use some of his photos. Then, I landed some great action photos and team pics from a Swift Current photographer named Rod Steensland but initially had trouble locating him. Fortunately, I tracked down his daughter in B.C. and she put me in touch with him. Throughout the five years that we researched and wrote this book, I obtained additional images from the Bronco’s players themselves.
Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Gregg: The hardest part was the rewriting. Having never written a book previous to this one, but having been a sports journalist for more than 40 years, I was concerned with perhaps ruining aspects of the story with constant rewriting. At one point, I pretty much said, ‘That’s it. No more until a professional editor gets his/her hands on the manuscript.’ ” . . . It’s also hard to make a decision about what gets in and what doesn’t. Everyone has a story to tell but they can’t all make the cut.
Caitlyn: Describe your ideal writing environment.
Gregg: Well, it used to be coffee, and lots of it, and cigarettes, and lots of those. But that was more than 20 years ago when the keyboard of choice was a typewriter. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a choice. Now it usually starts on our gigantic sofa with the laptop in my lap (which is why they call it a laptop, isn’t it?). . . . Then whatever is written gets emailed to the home computer where it gets another read.
Caitlyn: What are you reading now?
Leesa: Brian Costello introduced me to a book called “Starvation Lake”, which is a non-fiction trilogy. It’s about a small town reporter and rec-league hockey player who investigates a mystery involving his former hockey coach, a local legend in the town. I found it very intriguing, a classic page-turner and ended up reading his second book in the series called “The Hanging Tree” and then just recently finished the third called “The Skeleton Box”. I highly recommend all three books.
Gregg: The latest Rolling Stone magazine. The latest National Geographic magazine. . . . I have a book in my car that I read while my wife is shopping. Right now, it’s The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. . . . I have a Kindle, and the active book on it right now is The Glass Rainbow, by James Lee Burke. It’s detective fiction centre in the New Orleans area, featuring Dave Robicheaux. . . . Also on the go is Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard. He’s a favourite. No one comes up with characters like Leonard does. . . . Just finished Dave Bidini’s On a Cold Road.
Caitlyn: What is your new project?
Leesa: I have written another hockey book targeting the children’s market, involving a famous Montreal Canadiens goalie named Jacques Plante. It’s in the early stages and presents a different sort of challenge than Sudden Death because of the demographic and the illustrations.
Gregg Drinnan has been a sports journalist for 40 years and has been sports editor at the Kamloops Daily News since 2000. Gregg lives just outside Kamloops, British Columbia.
Leesa Culp was one of the few witnesses to the crash of the Swift Current Broncos. She has been published by The Hockey News, the Penticton Herald, and the Sudbury Star. Leesa lives in Beamsville, Ontario.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.