Quill and Quire

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How Hockey Explains Canada: The Sport that Defines a Country

by Paul Henderson with Jim Prime

The next time our federal immigration minister decides to revise study materials for the citizenship test, he may want to consider including this quick history of Canada’s game. The book contains a lengthy and engrossing foreword by the minister’s boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who declares himself “actually a pretty decent road hockey player.” Who knew that Harper’s father’s first cousin was married to Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Brewer? And don’t tell anyone in Alberta that Harper declares one of his most prized possessions to be a Leafs jersey signed by all the living members of the 1967 Stanley Cup team.

This glossy primer briefly touches on Confederation, the Quiet Revolution, and (naturally, given the book’s author) the 1972 Summit Series, not to mention feminism and Marshall McLuhan. Much of the territory has been well-Zambonied; some seasoned hockey fans may not require yet another retelling of Henderson’s game-winning goal against the Russians (even one that comes from the player himself), or of Rocket Richard’s role in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.

Overall, the book is not so much about how hockey explains Canada as it is a record of two Canadians explaining hockey – its fiercely debated birthplace, its changing rules and fluctuating popularity, the differences in style between the Western, Eastern, and Quebec/Maritime game. Henderson and Prime also focus on movers and shakers like deposed hockey czar Alan Eagleson and media personalities such as Foster Hewitt, Don Cherry, and Ron McLean.

The writing style is populist and earnest yet funny, and backed up by in-your-face quotes from such colourful hockey geezers as Dave “Tiger” Williams, Johnny Bower, and Jim McKenny. Although there are some annoying copy-editing errors – a photo cutline says the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics took place on Feb. 28, 2011, and the body copy alleges the winning goal was scored by “Sydney” Crosby – the book is superbly illustrated, with many seldom-seen photos.