my first hockey game: kirstie mclellan day

Hockey She Wrote: Wayne Gretzky and Kirstie McLellan Day.

Hockey squandered its best chance of snaring William Faulkner as a fan in January of 1955. I’m still not entirely sure who’s to blame for failing to catch the Nobel laureate’s imagination. Could have been the fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which Faulkner attended on assignment for Sports Illustrated to witness the hometown Rangers take on the all-powerful Montreal Canadiens. They were smoking, I guess, the fans, and maybe altogether too raucous for Faulkner’s placid soul. Or maybe was it the not-very-good Rangers that turned him off? Unless it was hockey itself: “discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical,” he called it when he wrote it all up.

In a book I wrote a few years ago about the spells that hockey casts, and the shadows, I spent some time with Faulkner — Ernest Hemingway, too — trying to suss out just how they could have failed to have been enchanted by hockey. I also wrote about Evelyn, Viscountess Byng of Vimy in Puckstruck, and how the first hockey game she saw hooked her for life.

This was in Ottawa in 1921, in the first fall of her husband’s tenure as governor-general. The visiting Toronto St. Patricks beat the Senators 5-4. “It was one of the cleanest games on record,” a local newspaper reported next morning, “not a player decorating the penalty box. The checking was heavy and the ceaseless pace a menace to temper-control, but all turned in a splendid record.” Babe Dye scored a couple of goals for the winning team, and Ken Randall scored a couple of others. Also on the ice were Clint Benedict, Frank Nighbor, Frank Boucher. Ottawa captain Eddie Gerard presented Lady Byng with a bouquet of American Beauty roses.

It may be that this first exposure to hockey, pacey yet peaceable, set the standard by which Lady Byng judged the sport from there on after. When subsequent games didn’t meet the mark, did she see no other alternative than to save the game from itself by donating her trophy for skilled, gentlemanly conduct?

Hard to say. I don’t, in general, know what these initial exposures to hockey reveal about the first-timer in question, or about hockey. Still, I like the idea of someone venturing for the first time into a rink, happening on hockey. What do they see? How does it hit them?

Beyond the book, I’ve continued to collect first-time accounts as I’ve come across them. I’ve written about the Dionne quintuplets, and about Henry Ford sitting in as Larry Aurie and Ebbie Goodfellow Detroit Falcons lost to Bill Cook’s New York Rangers in 1932. Browsing the file I’ve built up, I find clippings about World War I heroes of the Royal Navy attending their first hockey games, and a photograph from the night in 1995 a future king of Spain watched Doug Gilmour’s Toronto Maple Leafs slip past Theo Fleury’s Calgary Flames. I’ve got a notice here from 1936 that tells me that the entire roster of New Zealand’s vaunted rugby team, the All Blacks, saw their first NHL game at the Forum. (Canadiens and Rangers tied 1-1 that time.)

This fall, I’ve been seeking out more stories of first encounters with NHL hockey. None of them, so far, have come in from Nobel laureates or viscountesses; unlike Faulkner and Lady Byng, my correspondents were all familiar with the game, as fans or players or both, before they got to a big-league rink. They are writers and historians, journalists, poets, former players I’ve been soliciting to ask about the first NHL game they attended, who they saw, what made an impression. They’ve been generous in their responses. You’ll be seeing these recollections in this space in the coming weeks, if you keep a watch.

First up, today: Kirstie McLellan Day.

Earlier this year, BookNet Canada released a list of the 150 bestselling Canadian books since 2007. The list of authors implicated in this is an impressive one. Robert Munsch not only tops the chart with Love You Forever, he recurs throughout, with a remarkable 34 other titles. As noted by BookNet, Margaret Atwood has four books on the list, while Alice Munro and Chris Hadfield are some of those writers with three. Not so noticed: five of the bestsellers (including the top-rated hockey book) have Day’s name on the cover.

fleuryThe Calgary writer, journalist, TV host and producer has been prolific for a while. Her hockey streak started in 2009, when she worked with Theo Fleury on his autobiography, Playing With Fire. (Ranked 17th on the BookNet 150, it has outsold Don Cherry’s Hockey Stories and Stuff, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, and Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game.)

Day went on to score assists on books by Bob Probert (Tough Guy in 2010) and Ron MacLean (Cornered in 2011 and Hockey Towns in 2015), and on Wayne Gretzky’s 99 Stories of the Game (2016). Still to come is Hellbent, a memoir by Marty McSorley. Kelly Hrudey’s Calling The Shots, out this fall, is her latest collaboration.

Kirstie McLellan Day, then, on the first NHL game she saw for herself.

Growing up in Regina, everybody knew somebody who had something to do with the NHL. My mom grew up across the street from “little Dickie Irvin” who became one of our very best hockey broadcasters for decades. He broke his arm climbing her family fence when he was four years old. Amazing guy. A living encyclopedia of hockey stories. Dick is now a good friend and a source for countless anecdotes in the hockey books I write. One of my dad’s best friends was Billy Hicke, who played for the Canadiens and the California Seals. Gordie Howe who was born in a farmhouse in Floral, just up the highway near Saskatoon, came to town regularly to sign autographs for kids at Simpson’s Department Store. My husband, Larry, was one of those kids. He first met Gordie when he was ten. The hockey card that Gordie signed hangs in his office.

With all those connections, hockey should have been in my blood from the start, but I was a late bloomer. Very late. It wasn’t until the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in the early 80s that I started to take an interest. Don’t judge.

Larry was the anchorman at CFAC TV, the local station that carried the Flames games. He got tickets once in a while and so he dragged me to my first NHL game, April 21, 1988. The Smythe Division Finals against the hated Edmonton Oilers. Standing room only and LOUD.

I remember Wayne skating out and the crowd booing. He seemed to revel in it. And then Messier skated over with that big shit-eating grin of his, and they were laughing. Oooo, that pissed people off. We were on Wayne every time he touched the puck. Anytime he went down or skated near an official, the rink echoed with a chorus of, “Whiner! Whiner! Whiner!” Never fazed him. Just seemed to make him play harder. Wayne scored the OT winner. Damn you, Gretzky. We filed out tired, elated, and dejected.

I never dreamed that someday I’d be sitting around his kitchen table with him writing a book about it. Um, the booing and the whiner part never came up, so I’d appreciate it if you kept that part just between us.

 

(Image: Kirstie McLellan Day)

 

this week: once wayne gretzky told me stats are for losers

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s 2007 digital photograph "March Storm, Georgian Bay" from her series "Group of Seven Awkward Moments." "By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour," Thorneycroft says, "the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions." For more of her sublime northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s 2007 digital photograph “March Storm, Georgian Bay” from her series “Group of Seven Awkward Moments.” “By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour,” Thorneycroft says, “the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions.” For more of her sublime northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

Crosby Not Eating Well

was a headline this week at philly.com.

From up on the International Space Station, the commander of Expedition 35 tweeted that he was enjoying Leafs games on TSN. “I watch them while working out,” wrote Chris Hadfield. “Great to see their skill and grit. Go Leafs!”

In The Detroit Free Press, Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock discussed some changes in line combinations he’d made to try to help generate more offense. “We feel,” he said, “with Fil and Bruns and Clears, that’s a pretty good line. Fil’s been a good centerman for us. We like what the Mule is doing, so we’re just going to spread our lineup out and go a little bit deeper.”

Gare Joyce had a dream he couldn’t fathom: “I was interviewing Sidney #Crosby but he was only 4 ft tall + had helium suffused voice.”

Viktor Stalberg looked in the mirror this week and tried to count the stitches. A shot from Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf had hit the Chicago winger, Crosbylike, near the mouth, although Stalberg’s jaw didn’t break. “There are still a couple you can’t really see,” he said, regarding the stitches.

The doctor said it was 50 to 60, something like that — 20 on the inside and a little bit more on the outside.

It doesn’t look great, but it doesn’t feel too bad, to be honest with you. You cut so many nerves, my face is still numb, and you can’t really move it like you want to. I’m sure when the swelling goes down and those nerves heal up it will feel a lot better.

“What happened?” said Pittsburgh’s James Neal after Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers knocked him cold for a moment with what one paper described as “a reverse-forearm/elbow.”

Boston’s Brad Marchand said he was pretty nervous the first time he skated on a line with Jaromir Jagr in practice. He felt compelled to pass him the puck. “I felt like every time I got it I had to give it to him and let him play with it. Guys were yelling at me because we’d be on a 2-on-1 and the defenseman would just stand by him and I had a breakaway but I would still give it to him.”

Toronto listed winger Joffrey Lupul as day-to-day, this week, with an ailment of the upper body that wasn’t a concussion. “You are the one that likes that word,” the coach, Randy Carlyle, told a reporter, “so you put the diagnosis you want on that.”

Of the Nashville Predators, Chicago goalie Ray Emery said, “That’s a team you have to really play some boring hockey against.”

Szymon Szemberg from the IIHF had a word, this week, for Ottawa’s 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson: indelible.

Of Milan Lucic, The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reporter said, “Needs to play angry. Otherwise, passenger.”

Sidney Crosby met with reporters in Pittsburgh to tell them about his sore jaw. “Felt it but didn’t see it,” he said of the slapshot that hit him. Still unable to chew solid food, he said he’d been living on milkshakes for nine days. Keeping weight on, he said, was “impossible.”

He laughed. “It hasn’t been too enjoyable.” Continue reading