New hockey books offer glimpse of Canadian soul

Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2006

By Lucas Aykroyd

When it comes to literary household names from leading countries at the IIHF World Championships, Russia has Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. The Czechs can counter with Franz Kafka and the Swedes boast Astrid Lindgren. Hemingway and Faulkner represent the USA proudly. But while contemporary literature from Canada features the likes of Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler, this is also the nation where more hockey books are printed annually than anywhere else.

If you thought poetry and hockey could only be mentioned in the same breath when describing the breathtaking maneuvers of Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky, think again. Going Top Shelf: An Anthology of Canadian Hockey Poetry is replete with passages that offer a glimpse of the Canadian soul.

Editor Michael Kennedy’s essay “I Am Hockey” describes what he decided to do with his Ottawa University students during Game Eight of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR: “I looked at my fellow Canadians as we assembled for the class and said: ‘We don’t want to be here, do we? Let’s go down to the student lounge and watch the game!’ And what a game it was. At the end, we cheered, and many of us had tears in our eyes. Outside in the streets surrounding Ottawa U, it was as if we had been victorious in war. Horns honked, and people cheered and we all knew this game extended far, far beyond the logic of a physical sport enjoyed as entertainment.”

University of Victoria professor Lorna Crozier’s ode to the 2002 Canadian women’s Olympic gold medal team deftly blends gender politics with national pride: “Angels of the House, Angels of Mercy–yes, they’ve called women that. But these are Angels of Ice. Hard-muscled, sharp, dangerous as winter’s cold. How else do you explain their speed, the light streaming from their helmets, the slivers of water under their burning blades that cut across the blue lines like scissors slicing through the cotton for a quilt.”

Whether you love or deplore the physical style of Canadian men’s hockey, you’ll have to crack a smile at the refrain of “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” by the Rheostatics, who are fronted by international hockey aficionado Dave Bidini: “You’ll wish that you had died/When Wendel has your hide/’Cause he does it the Canadian way.” (Clark, incidentally, amassed a rather modest 10 PIM in seven games as a member of Canada’s 1985 World Junior gold medal team, the only time he represented his country in IIHF competition.)

The book also contains verses from such luminaries as Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient), Al Purdy, and Don Gutteridge.

Another great read is Guts and Go Overtime: More Great Saskatchewan Hockey Stories by Calvin Daniels. It’s the 209-page follow-up to the Yorkton-based writer’s similarly titled 2004 effort, and it contains many colorful anecdotes from sons of this Prairie province, including some about Canada’s recent battles in IIHF competition.

Barry Trapp, Hockey Canada’s head junior scout from 1997 to 2003, offers his opinion about why it’s become more challenging for Canada to dominate: “‘Our game hasn’t slipped. It’s just that countries below us have improved their games,’ he said, adding that is particularly evident in the skills of European netminders.”

There’s also the inside scoop on Regina-born defenseman Jamie Heward’s three consecutive roster appearances with medal-winning Canadian squads at the World Championships (2003, 2004, 2005) and reflections from Ryan Getzlaf and Brayden Coburn about the ingredients for success that the 2005 IIHF World Junior gold medal team possessed. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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