Rethinking Hockey

Reviewed by Jamie Dopp

In recent years there has been a modest but steady production of scholarly works in Canada about hockey. Hockey: Challenging Canada’s Game, edited by Jenny Ellison and Jennifer Anderson, is a worthy addition to this literature. The book is a collection of essays and historical documents that grew out of the Canadian Museum of History’s Hockey exhibit, co-curated by Ellison and Anderson, which opened in March 2017. The exhibit seeks to combine cultural analysis with images and artifacts from memorable moments in the game—with a special emphasis on hockey’s diversity. These goals are reflected in the texts that make up the collection.

The book consists of an introduction, sixteen essays, and seven “documents.” The essays are organized into five sections defined by broad themes. The opening section offers three outstanding essays about hockey’s origin and history. Of particular note is Andrew C. Holman’s account of hockey’s history, which manages to be readable and encyclopedic at the same time, and which contains a bibliography that attests to the richness of the critical material available on hockey today. Other sections are organized around the themes of “Childhood,” “Whose Game?,” “Reporting Hockey,” and “Rethinking the Pros.” “Childhood” includes a timely and important essay by Sam McKegney and Trevor J. Phillips on the decolonizing potential of Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse. “Whose Game?” contains an account of women’s international hockey by Julie Stevens that has the same encyclopedic quality as Holman’s opening essay. Of particular note in “Reporting Hockey” is Swedish critic Tobias Stark’s account of the representations of Canadian hockey players in the Swedish press.

The seven “documents,” I thought, were a notable innovation. They consist of either experiential statements or brief historical materials. Document 1, for example, is a series of accounts of hockey by survivors of the residential school system. Document 2 contains background materials for reading Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater.” Document 3 is a personal statement from Hayley Wickenheiser about the path she took to becoming a five-time Olympic medallist.

Two last features of the book are worth noting. One is that the text is printed on glossy heavy-stock paper, which allows a sharp reproduction of many colour photographs, and adds a slightly coffee-table book-like feel—a nice touch for a volume that balances academic and popular concerns. The other is that a few of the texts are in French. This seems especially appropriate given the focus on diversity. I particularly appreciated “Maurice Richard: notre icône,” Benoȋt Melanҫon’s brief study of Rocket Richard (it draws on Melanҫon’s own Les yeux de Maurice Richard, one of the great Canadian books of cultural criticism), which makes up Document 6.

Overall, Hockey: Challenging Canada’s Game is an excellent interdisciplinary resource for people interested in taking hockey seriously as a topic for research.

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