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The Stick: A History, a Celebration, an Elegy

by Bruce Dowbiggin

Calgary Herald sportswriter Bruce Dowbiggin’s last foray into hockey books was Of Ice and Men, a look at how a handful of hockey greats have mastered their craft. But they say that craftspeople are only as good as their tools, so in his latest work, Dowbiggin looks at one of the implements crucial to the game – the hockey stick. The Stick uses the long wood (or, increasingly, graphite) shaft with a curved blade as a way of getting to several of the larger truths about hockey, and by extension, Canadian culture.

After an examination of the hockey stick’s origins among the Mi’kmaq of eastern Canada and its development in the early North American professional game, Dowbiggin plunges full-bore into his analysis of why the stick is such an important piece of Canadian lore. You need only to see how hotly coveted any pro player’s stick is among young fans to understand the points he makes about the stick as Canadian icon and representation of achievement. He accomplishes this analysis by interspersing details of how the stick’s design has changed to reflect technological progress, and, most entertainingly for hockey fans, by chronicling the attachment that many of the game’s great players have had to their own special sticks.

It’s a tough task to carry a tale about a single piece of hockey equipment for nearly 300 pages, but Dowbiggin pulls it off in style, due mostly to his skillful use of the narratives of pro players and fans. The Stick will appeal to the two basic kinds of sports readers out there: those who like “pure” sports books filled with descriptions of game action and the players; and those who prefer the sports-sociology genre, where sport is used to analyze larger cultural forces.