Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A doomed, crazy game

I'm trying to find the connection between this week's lugubrious NYTBR essay on the dearth of hockey books and, indeed, hockey's tenuous place in the sports-world food chain, and the Canadian women's hockey gold. Writer Keith Gessen calls hockey "a doomed, crazy game" and "a sport that isn't quite making it." As a Canadian, it's hard for me to see that, but of course Gessen is talking about American hockey literature, and the American hockey experience ("It is played in cities that are too cold or in cities that have no place for it in their hearts"). This could be true, especially if the sparse NYT coverage is any indication (but then again, consider Messier). But I'm not so sure. Even with the loss of blood-bouncing violence, hockey remains a game of speed and grace, incredibly thrilling to watch at its best and downright balletic across an Olympic-sized rink (yeah, tough guy, balletic. You heard me). It's also thrilling when the underdog prevails -- as in any sport -- and even more so when it prevails twice (though never call the Finns underdogs in hockey. I have gone head to head with Finnish hockey fans before).

Gessen thinks it's high time for a hockey book, after approvingly citing years-old examples like "The Game" by former Habs goalie -- and Canadian -- Ken Dryden (and laywer, yay!). I don't know what's holding hockey back, considering that tales of spelling bees, crossword puzzles, and chicks who box have managed to captivate audiences (not to mention the cottage industry spawned by salt and cod). There's no shortage of drama, especially when you look to Torino (Candian women win gold! Canadian men in a tailspin!), or even when you look to the U.S. (just let Mathieu Schneider near the goalie's wife and watch the fun begin!). I'd hate to think that the new anti-thuggery rules would kill the game's appeal (remember what they said about Jacques Plante's face mask). So maybe all that's missing is a good writer who also happens to be a fan. How 'bout it Gessen? (I'd do it, but I don't know if hardcore hockey fans would go for my "icing is delicious" joke.)

Or maybe all that's missing is an appreciation for the simple, wholesome values of the game. As one Team Canada psychologist said recently (and he should know!): "With hockey, it's so simple. It's, 'If we win, let's go for a beer. If we lose, let's go for a beer.'" Amen to that. Throw in some icing and it's practically a meal.

In Search of the Great American Hockey Novel [NYT]

*Yes, I know the alleged Schneider-Roy drama occurred when they were with the Canadiens, but Schneider happened to be an American Canadien. Also, like so many other hockey players, Schneider is a Jew.

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