Don Harper’s boss at the grocery store in the northern Ontario mining town of Highgrade isn’t much of a fan. “Hockey!” Double-O Watkins sputters as his clerk heads to the rink again. “Hockey is only a game. Waste of time.” What’s the point? “The sort of jobs you get for playing hockey don’t lead anywhere.”
Don doesn’t care. The hero of Leslie McFarlane’s lively pulp yarn “Trouble On Skates” lives for hockey, but he only plays it for fun. He’s not looking for a hockey job — even if a job is looking for him.
Published as a serial in four installments in Street & Smith’s Sport Story Magazine in January and February of 1939, “Trouble On Skates” is a gem of the genre. That’s no surprise, of course. The father of broadcaster and hockey author Brian, Leslie grew up in and around the rinks of Haileybury, Ontario, and worked as a sports reporter at the Sudbury Star before going on to a career writing for TV, radio, and film, and penning (prolifically) popular fiction (including 21 Hardy Boys mystery novels).
McFarlane Sr. wrote a lot of hockey stories in his time. Some of them have been collected in a pair of handsome hardcover editions published in 2005 and ’06 as Leslie McFarlane’s Hockey Stories, volumes one and two. Many others (with titles like “Dunkel From Dunkelburg” and “But Mr. Referee, You Lug —”) are buried away in back issues of Maclean’s or (like “Trouble On Skates”) in Street & Smith’s. The ones I’ve read are fast-moving and funny, heavy (but not too heavy) on the high jinks, even if they do tend to creak a little in their old age and attitudes. The hockey McFarlane depicts is vivid and mostly plausible, which is saying something when it comes to hockey fiction.
As for Don Harper, honest-to-goodness groceryman and superlative right winger, here’s how Bingo McAllister, veteran radio play-by-play man, rates him:
Does everything he’s told, never squawks at a referee, never picks a fight, stays out of trouble, makes those goals look so blamed easy you think the goalie must have been asleep.
What he lacks, in Bingo’s book, is colour: Don needs to learn some showmanship, maybe develop a capacity for controversy to keep the fans interested. Don might not agree, but then (as mentioned) he has no ambitions in hockey beyond the horizon of the fun he’s having playing for the Highgrade Locals.
I have to confess that I don’t know how it all turns out for Don: I’m only caught up as far as the end of the first Street & Street installment from ’39. I know that there’s a scouting mix-up and that our hero finds himself on a train headed south for the big city and whatever awaits him there. Hockey stardom? Riches? Romance? The art, above, from the cover doesn’t exactly seem to bode well for Don, so I’m guessing that what’s in line for him is some shocking sort of come-uppance to prove his boss at the grocery store right. I wish I could say, I’m still trying to track down the subsequent chapters of “Trouble On Ice.” You’ll know what happens when I do.