Read an Excerpt
A Few Words about This Book
One of my favourite writers is Annie Dillard, despite what she once said about writers who write books designed for specific audiences or markets, which is: “It amounts to a wasted and sad life.”
Well, I wasn’t sad, or even all that wasted, while writing this book. Though writing a book for hockey players does sound a little iffy. I mean, the suspicion is not only that hockey players don’t read, it’s that they probably can’t. But my equally strong suspicion is that this won’t deter them. So if this applies to you – that is, if you can’t read but have gotten this far – I salute you for helping me prove Annie Dillard wrong.
That rumour’s all nonsense, that hockey players are dumb. I know of several hockey players who read really well. And Eric Nesterenko, while playing with the Chicago Blackhawks, actually published a book of poems. (To my knowledge he was never beaten up for it – at least not by his own team.) During Hockey Night in Canada interviews, Ken Dryden’s lawyerlike mouth almost single-handedly succeeded in putting an end to that dumb-rumour, but it only half took hold. What I’m getting to in my roundabout way is that oldtimer hockey players only act dumb for a few hours a week, and they actually lead other lives. I’ve played oldtimers with truckers, doctors, mail carriers, chicken farmers, Buddhists, retirees, dirt hippies, preachers, dot-com millionaires, policemen, wood cutters, drug dealers, sea captains, witches, and eighteenth-century explorers. I’ve never played against an all-gay team – that I know of – but that’s probably coming. So, while as hockey players we may in fact not know how to read, in our other life we probably do.
This Season So Far
In life, nothing is so delicious as anticipating that next hockey game.
Well, okay, let’s not exaggerate, there’s that anticipation when, well, remember when you were nineteen and half the buttons were undone and your hands, hers too, were shaking and moving faster? That and, sure, I guess there’s also the anticipation of food, when you’re starving and the waiter slides that steaming plate of grilled garlic prawns under your face and you make an involuntary noise, and people from other tables look.
So sex, food, and maybe also shelter during a storm. But a hockey game is right up there.
Sitting in a schoolroom in Winnipeg, every Monday morning I would begin daydreaming about Saturday’s game and I would not stop. That next game was basically all I looked forward to in life. (No sex yet, and I doubt there were prawns in Winnipeg in those days.) In the meantime I would read my Hardy Boys books, and go to Cubs, and watch black-and-white TV, and hang around doing stuff, but all I was really doing was biding time. Physically inert but mentally on fire, I was scoring goal after goal in my imagination.
Same when I started playing oldtimers, I would go to work, stay interested enough to not get fired, and feel a constant pull in my gut about the game that night. Home from work, I’d bounce a kid on my knee, and he’d ask me what I was staring at, and I’d say, “Nothing, Connor,” and he’d say, “I’m not Connor, I’m Lise.” My gear would be bagged and waiting by the door an hour early. I remember once I had a game and my wife, the tardy FeeFee, was late coming home. I recall pacing, and shooting fierce glances at the clock every ten seconds. She didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car. She’d forgotten about my game completely and eventually it was too late for me to make the game at all. When she did finally get home, she said I looked as if someone had died.
So, after a whole summer off, anticipation of the first game of the year, well, that’s usually a pretty fine bit of excitement too.
But not this year. I’m not sure why.
I got the call from Lyle yesterday. I was at the kitchen phone, standing in the open door to the deck. Outside, the warm September sun shone and the evening birds chirped in that melody we assume has something to do with human happiness. It seemed far too early in the year for this particular phone call, but apparently we have a practice next week, then our first game the week following.
I picture the practice. It’s always the same. This single practice, which we humorously refer to as our training camp, will begin with a few three-on-twos. That’s to make it seem like a practice, which is where you do drills to “make you a better team.” Everyone will look horrible. Hardly any passes will connect, even from ten feet away. After five minutes of this ragged fiasco, Lyle will interrupt things and we’ll split in two and have a scrimmage. We won’t look any better, and passes still won’t connect, but a scrimmage is more fun. Which of course is the whole point.
So another season begins, but not for me – not yet, if at all. Which likely explains my dramatic lack of enthusiasm.
I’ll be missing this year’s training camp, and the first games. My back just doesn’t seem to be healing. I own a two-man kayak, a hog of a boat so big and stable you could probably stand up in it, throw your head all the way back and chug a beer. That information alone should explain the state of my back, but I’ll supply a bit more detail. Camping the past summer with my family, I was on the beach and the tide was coming in, and in order to keep my kayak from being swept away I had to haul it up one hundred yards of sand single-handedly. Picture a guy digging in his heels, reefing on a twenty-foot craft that is sticking to the sand like Velcro. The guy is greying and paunchy and has no discernible muscles, but he’s acting like he thinks he does.