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Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn’t Play

by David Adams Richards

For a long time now, I’ve fretted over the inability of Canadians to develop a worthwhile literature of hockey. Occasionally, a good hockey book appears, of course, but we’ve never come close to either a critical mass or a distinctive style. This wouldn’t be such a disappointment if we didn’t have to measure our failure against the rich baseball literature of America, where novelists, literary journalists, and baseball writers such as Roger Angell regularly serve up elegant prose full of myth and magic.

Now that I’ve read Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn’t Play by Governor General’s Award-winning novelist David Adams Richards, I wonder if I’ve been looking for the wrong thing. Instead of the serenity, reverence, and hope found in baseball literature, Richards’ book is chaotic, neurotic, and sad. It bounces between memoir and essay, and between past and present, like an unfrozen puck. Yet, it is no less lyrical than the best books about that summer game. Perhaps this is the way hockey literature should read.

Much of Hockey Dreams takes place in New Brunswick’s Miramichi region. It is 1961, the last year Richards, who has no use of his left arm, and his best friend Stafford Foley, who is going blind because of diabetes, will play hockey. Still, they love the game and, even then, saw it being taken from Canadians by international powers that prevent Canada from sending its best players to the World Championships, and by the Americans, who have money and will soon get all the expansion teams in the National Hockey League. Into this disjointed narrative, Richards weaves other memories – of growing up, of great players and great games, and of distasteful meetings with people who don’t like hockey – and his thoughts about the game and its place in the Canadian psyche.

Although the worst thing I can say about Hockey Dreams is that some player names are spelled wrong, I’m not sure it’s the great hockey book. It’s a bit too personal, a bit too idiosyncratic, a bit too weird. But Richards may have shown us a new way to write about hockey. Certainly it would be typically Canadian if hockey literature came into its own just as we lose the game to corporate interests south of the border.