under review: reading your way through a hockey hiatus

Is it really 50 days since the pandemic stopped hockey, and everything else, except for in Belarus? Yes, that’s right, it was, this Thursday past — two score and ten scoreless days since the rinks closed up on March 12. Does it feel like a hundred days? Two hundred? As David Remnick was saying on The New Yorker’s podcast a couple of weeks into this strange spring, the loss of big-league sports is not — by far — the worst we’ve sustained, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bitter.

In the absence of hockey, and everything else (except in Belarus), it’s the questions that multiply to fill the ever-expanding void. They’re bulky and awkward, mostly unanswerable, and all but impossible to shepherd out of mind: How did this happen? Will everything be okay? When does it end?

Some of them are smaller, too, with a mosquito’s whine, no less nagging for being non-essential. Does hockey matter? What, really, are we missing? Were this year’s Leafs any good, does anyone recall? How do I know if my sourdough starter is still alive? Did you see those 1980s Oilers on Sportsnet the other night — how great were they? Not to mention Don Wittman on the play-by-play. Also: should I wash my hands again now? Also: anybody been able to zoom in on Ron MacLean’s good-looking bookshelves to see just what he’s got back there?

Hockey did focus itself on books in the first late-March weeks of isolation, back when we were still getting used to distracting ourselves. Remember? Back when we were focussed on tricks with rolls of toilet paper, before advent of multi-paned Zoom conclaves of housebound NHLers really got going? I suppose that people are still reading books, quietly, thoughtfully, off-screen, but in those days, the hockey world seemed to be as intent on talking books, hockey and otherwise, as much as zone starts or PDO.

San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture started a book club.

Washington’s goaltender-on-hiatus Braden Holtby made a steeple of the books he’d been reading, or his wife Brandi did — she was the one, anyway, who tweeted out the photo:

In Seattle, the NHL’s newest franchise revealed … no, not the team’s much-anticipated name, that’s still to come — when “the mood is right,” as Greg Wyshinski of ESPN reports. The should-be Metropolitans did proffer some literary advice, even if it wasn’t exactly adventurous.

Hockey Canada weighed in:

Others turned their cameras to their shelves to advocate for hockey-minded favourites, historian and L.A. Kings writer Mike Commito had some counsel:

To which some of us answered back:

I added a novel to this massif of mine; I could have elevated more. I’ve written elsewhere about hockey fiction, superior and not-so-much. Ranking the novels I’ve enjoyed most of all, and learned from, the ones that rise above the regular, I tend to back up Roy MacGregor’s The Last Season (1985) with books like Paul Quarrington’s King Leary (1987), The Divine Ryans (1990) by Wayne Johnston, Fred Stenson’s Teeth (1994), and Mark Jarman’s Salvage King, Ya! (1997). Pete McCormack’s sweet and underappreciated novel Understanding Ken(1998) would be on it, and so would The Good Body by Bill Gaston (2000). And, from 2011, Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist.

So much for the best. What about the rest? A couple of years ago, when I was working hard to read allthe hockey books, every one of them — well, I didn’t do that, is what happened: I failed. It turns out that there are just too many, and not enough time, plus while a whole lot of them are vivid and insightful and even beautifully rendered, many others are … not.

I did read a lot, though. And for all the hockey narrative I made it through, I acquired a whole lot more, much of which I have shelved here behind me, with the fiction closest to hand, in case of emergency. It’s not all novels; this is a library rich with juvenile and genre editions, mass-market, pulp, serialized, and self-published sagas, too. Colonizing three shelves and part of a fourth behind the desk I’m sitting at, they’re all here, the great and the good and the just-entertaining mixed in with the middling, the muddled, the dumbly offensive, the merely harmless. It’s some of the latter that I’m thinking of paying some attention to here, in this space, over this next little stretch of our Great Hiatus, with a particular focus on the made-it-halfway-through and the couldn’t-get-myself-past-the-second-page. If now’s not the time to take a walk on the pulpier, predictable, prosaic side of hockey’s library, when is?

That’s not to say that some the fiction that comes under consideration in this upcoming series isn’t deftly done, incisive, insightful. We’ll look for that, without necessarily counting on finding it. The cover-art we’ll see along the way will be, I’ll mention, as fantastic as this. How far will we wander, through just how much turgid prose, down how many clichéd plotlines? We’ll see. No judgment … unless, no, I guess it’s too late for that. No harm, then — that’s what I’ll say: no harm intended. I’m not here to blame or berate or bicker. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of the books discussed here, I forgive you. Same thing if you happen to have written any of them. So: stay tuned.

 

this summer: dave farrish’s foyer + a tattoo of harry potter battling a giant blue dragon

Red Glare: You’re more likely to find depictions of footballers, politicians, and dogs in the portfolio of Graeme Bandeira, an illustrator from Harrogate in England who’s resident artist at The Yorkshire Post, but he’s also turned pen and paint to Maurice Richard. For more of his work, visit http://altpick.com/bandy.

“You don’t know how heavy it is,” Eric Fehr was saying, back in June. The Pittsburgh Penguins had just won the Stanley Cup and Fehr, a winger, was telling The Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen about the joy of the triumph and the subsequent uplift, and how he’d wondered, briefly, whether his two surgically repaired shoulders would be able to handle the heft. “You don’t know how it’s going to feel,” Fehr was saying. “You’ve pictured it for so many years. When you finally get your hands on it, it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling.”

The shoulders were fine. “It felt a lot lighter than I thought it would.”

Later, after a parade in Pittsburgh (400,000 were said to have come out), the Cup went on its annual pilgrimage to visit the hometowns of the players and coaches who’d won it. With Phil Pritchard, its Hockey Hall of Fame guardian, Cup travelled to Landshut, in Germany, and to Moscow, Russia. It visited Helsinki, in Finland, and Jyväskylä, too, in the Finnish Lakeland. Swedish stops included Stockholm, Sollentuna, Sundsvi, Södertälje, Luleå, and Nykvarn.

Canadian stops included Fehr’s hometown, Winkler, Manitoba, where it visited the Southland Mall.

“It still hasn’t fully kicked in,” said Fehr, who got a key to the city from Mayor Martin Harder. “Still kind of a wow factor for me, especially a day like today when you get to walk around with the cup and especially when you see everybody’s faces when they get a look at that cup.”

“We all squeezed the stick,” Gord Downie sang this summer, crossing the land one more time with The Tragically Hip, “and we all pulled the trigger.”

In Denver, Colorado lost its coach when Patrick Roy resigned. It was a surprise, maybe even a shock. Roy said he didn’t feel he had enough say in shaping the roster he was expected to command on the ice. “I remain forever loyal to the Avalanche,” he said, “with which I played 478 games, coached another 253, and won two Stanley Cups.”

GM Joe Sakic was sorry to see him go, but he respected the decision. “We’re all good,” he told Nicholas Cotsonika of NHL.com. It took Sakic just over a week to find a replacement: Jared Bednar, who last season won the AHL’s Calder Cup championship at the helm of the Lake Erie Monsters.

Was it worrisome that by early August Shea Weber still hadn’t travelled to Montreal? People were wondering, this summer, including several writers on the Habs beat.

His agent said no, not a problem, because … summer. Weber was at home in Kelowna, that’s all. “His initial reaction was there was a pause and a little bit of shock,” explained Jarrett Bousquet, the agent. “And then when he realized it was true, he was pretty excited. Obviously, now he’s extremely excited being back in Canada and the pieces that they’ve put together. And he knows Carey Price from B.C. and the Olympics and whatnot, so I know he’s very excited now.”

Man disguised as hockey goalie robs beer store in Manitoba

was a headline running amok across social media last week. It’s true; it happened, in Russell, Manitoba, about four hours’ journey to the northwest from Winkler. While police continue to search for the culprit, a consensus has solidified online that this was

the most Canadian crime story ever, Non-Moose Division (CBS Sports)

Most Canadian heist ever (Huffington Post)

The Most Canadian Thing Ever (@Breaking911)

a scene from a clichéd Canadian movie — if it wasn’t so bizarrely real. (CBC.ca)

Defenceman Justin Schultz welcomed the Stanley Cup to West Kelowna, B.C. His parents were there, at Royal LePage Place, beaming their pride.

“This is huge,” his mother Kim Schultz, told Carmen Weld of Castanet:

Kim said she tries to keep it all in perspective and keep Justin and the family grounded.

“It is a game, after all, and he just has a different job,” she said. “That is how I look at it, as his mom.”

Artist and writer Doug Coupland had a Stanley Cup question for his Twitter followers in August:

coupland cup

Answer: while interested parties suggested up Bell Centennial Bold Listing, Times New Ransom, and DIN Mittelscrift, the likeliest one seems to be … no font at all. As detailed here, at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Stanley Cup Journal, the cup’s engraver, Louise St. Jacques of Montreal, uses a collection of small hammers and custom-made letter stamps to knock each letter into the silverware.

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