Isaacs is a flashy word-slinger. In his other life he teaches Old and Middle English at the U. of Maryland. When not high-flying on Wagnerian descriptions of the blood-on-ice game (""Hockey is rooted, nurtured, and triumphant in violence""), he gives a creditable account of the birth and vagaries of the NHL, the fortunes of individual dynasties, and the changes brought by the 1968 expansion and the ruffian Philadelphia Flyers. Isaacs doesn't limit himself to the NFL, happily, straying to recap Canadian hockey in towns with names like Moose and Jaws, Saskatchewan. Among the more colorful players of the NHL's adolescence, Strague Cleghorn, one of the all-time great maulers, stands out, as does Newsy Lalonde who enjoyed dropping firecrackers under police cars in downtown Montreal traffic jams when he wasn't smashing the punt. The battle for the Stanley Cup (no, Isaacs doesn't detail it year-by-year) always involved violence and Conn Smythe, who led the Toronto Maple Leafs to a half dozen Stanley Cups between 1942 and 1951, was supposed to have tsk-tsked, ""If we don't put a stop to it, we'll have to start printing more tickets."" In fact, Isaacs prefers finesse to power play and the Canadiens to the Flyers; though the caliber of play declined after the expansion, he maintains that things are now leveling out and the classy teams are again asserting themselves. Those for whom ""a hockey goal evokes an orgasmic response"" will love it. Sports fans too.