A Lament of a Hockey Fan

I’ve always felt satisfied with hockey as my sport, and it meets all my needs as a sports fan but one. Unfortunately this one is almost a deal-breaker. Sure, I get fleeting tastes now and then, but nothing substantial. Worse, the one thing I miss amidst an otherwise thoroughly noble game is on offer from what is otherwise a sad and desperate tradition: baseball.

What follows in this blog is a brief review of the best books thus far written about the great game of hockey. I hope to accomplish two things. One is to point to some great works already written as proof that it is possible to think and write about the sport outside the stale cliches of hockey journalism. The second is to open dialogue with other devotees of the game who might have suggestions for other titles. My hope is that I can avoid leaping into the dirty mitt of the major leagues, and discover, even if it is nascent, a hidden literary and intellectual tradition in hockey

There are a few good ones.

The best book about hockey (in this vein and also ever), in my opinion, is Ken Dryden’s The Game. It is an intimate portrait of perhaps the most articulate player to ever play the game, in the throes of one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports, and within a great transition of the sport itself. As fans of the great tradition of the game, Dryden’s coincidental presence at this perfect juncture borders on miraculous.

In similar fashion, minus the insider/player perspective, are Stephen Brunt’s two great books, Searching for Bobby Orr and Gretzky’s Tears. Both offer insight into the transformation of hockey, from an old boys club controlled Canadian pastime into a corporate controlled, North American major sport. These books, in particular, help us understand what might be impossible otherwise: what the fuck is Don Cherry talking about and where is he coming from?

Another great aspect of both books is that, though not based on him, neither can avoid discussing the most influential hockey intellect of the modern era, Scotty Bowman. This is a fascinating man in need of an updated biography.

As for fiction, I’m less certain. My favourite is King Leary, by recently deceased Etobocokian Paul Quarrington. This book beautifully digs into hockey’s deep, mythic past, when Percival Leary won the Stanley Cup in 1919 and the spin-o-rama was known as the st.louis-whirlygig. And it is all the more poignant because, with Crosby injured and Ovechkin tamed, hockey lacks a true king. But this is the only non-young adult fiction I can think of worth mentioning.

Finally, the other genre part of the hockey cannon, biography, is where the majority of the spirit of hockey writing resides There are many hockey biographies. My favourite is Messier by Jeff Klein. He insinuates a truism we know but will not speak. Behind the great and the powerful, there is something more great and more powerful. In the late 80s, behind the Great One, the true hockey power was the Moose.

Anyways, I’m interested to know what other works you might not nominate to hockey’s literary hall of fame. It is too beautiful, complicated and culturally embedded tradition not to inspire the prose it so obviously deserves.

One Response to “A Lament of a Hockey Fan”
  1. Justin Bzovy says:

    Without a doubt “Le chandail de hockey”, otherwise known as “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” by Roch Carrier. Hockey at it’s finest is a game that revolves around children, as fans, as students, as players–whatever their real age is. M. Carrier captures exactly this aspect of the game. By the way, it’s also the only book I’ve ever read about hockey.

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