The Barnes & Noble Review
Unlike baseball, hockey is a sport that rarely elicits written sentiment. Yet Jay Atkinson's Ice Time shows that hockey, like America's Pastime, is a lifelong passion that cements the bonds between father and son. Tracking the progress of the Methuen High Rangers, Atkinson pays tribute to the rugged sport in which "if you don't shovel, you can't play."
The 42-year-old author volunteers as assistant coach for the Methuen (Massachusetts) High hockey team. He is unsure of his role, certain only that he wants to give something back to his school and the sport he loves. During the season the author lives vicariously through his charges -- and on occasion laces up the skates and fires a few slap shots himself. As is often the case in these mentoring roles, Atkinson gets as much from the adolescents as they do from him. Between coaching and playing, Atkinson monitors the progress of his five-year-old son, Liam, who skates for the Little Rangers.
Characters on the Methuen Rangers include a goaltender, Dan Bonfiglio, with a pacemaker and a heartache for a girl named Emily. Chris Cagliuso and bad-boy Ryan Fontaine are the team's stars. The extent to which Ryan's slip-ups are policed indicates how seriously the Rangers take their team. The Rangers improve upon their 6-12-2 record of the prior season, and Atkinson captures their climactic run with the skill of an experienced (if somewhat biased) play-by-play announcer.
Ice Time conveys the author's passion for hockey, and his equally fervent desire for Liam to develop that same fire. A feeling of imminent mortality pervades the text, but what the author cannot leave on the ice he can leave for his son. "What could I pass onto Liam," Atkinson asks, "that's more valuable than joy?" (Brenn Jones)
Until now, The Game, by Hall of Fame goaltender and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Ken Dryden, pretty much stood alone in the annals of great hockey writing. Finally, stiff competition comes from New England author Atkinson, whose year-long study of the high school hockey squad from his alma mater is a bona-fide masterstroke. Cynics might cringe at the Rockwellian town Atkinson describes; certainly it does seem odd in this day and age to follow the antics of some 20 teenagers without one mention of pregnancy, drug abuse or violence. Yet that is precisely the lush and heartwarming portrait Atkinson paints of his hometown of Methuen, Mass., a blue-collar Catholic town split between French Canadians and Italians, where hockey is the common language and obsession. The focal point of Atkinson's book is the game itself, which the author sees as a force of empowerment, family values and community, and most importantly, joy. He strives to share this joy with his five-year old son, Liam, whose pure glee at playing the game and worship of the teenaged players of Methuen High is palpable. Atkinson vividly illustrates the mental and emotional impact the sport has on its players and offers lucid descriptions of game action. The themes of the book may seem quaint hard work, dedication, fairness, faith, camaraderie but that does not in any way lessen its impact. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Widely published three-time Pushcart Prize nominee Atkinson tells the story of the Methuen High Rangers and their quest for the Massachusetts state championship in the 2001-2000 season. Although now a professor of English at Salem State College, Atkinson decided to return to his home community and become the assistant coach of the high school hockey team on which he had played 25 years earlier. This is an observant, evocative book for all readers who remember the days of playing shinny on a frozen pond from sunup to sundown and, if the moon was full, into the night or at least until your mom called you for dinner. Following a young team's single season, it is an emotionally charged, heart-warming tale of personal triumphs, both on and off the ice, of friendship, loyalty, perseverance, and dedicated parents. Many a small town in North America can share the same memories. Recommended. Larry R. Little, Penticton P.L., BC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Writing part memoir, part chronicle of a high-school hockey season, journalist and novelist Atkinson (Caveman Politics, 1997) takes readers along on his emotional ride as assistant coach of the 1999-2000 Methuen Rangers. Atkinson grew up in Methuen, a one-time working-class town in Massachusetts now undergoing gentrification. Here, he returns to his high-school alma mater, 25 years after he played goalie for the school team, to record the current season. Like the newsman he is, Atkinson keeps his writing of the moment, which works beautifully for this nonstop sport. Hockey is elemental to Methuen, a part of the town's collective identity, corralling entire families to sustain the expenses and long hours demanded from Methuen's still essentially working class team. But a parent could ask for no better coach than Joe Robillard-"We're here to help the kids, plain and simple"-the kind of sportsman who understands that passions are born, not made out of a parent's inflated expectations, that you must work hard for your dreams, but they have to be your dreams to begin with. As Robillard puts his team through their paces, Atkinson laces the narrative with his personal experiences with hockey-from the pure, near-ancestral, qualities of pond hockey, through his high-school days, to his current old-man's league-and proud, big-hearted stories of his five-year-old son's early hockey experiences. Atkinson has evocative power, whether it be in describing the olfactory insult of a hockey locker room, the ebullience that attends a sharply played game, the sound of skates, cutting over ice, echoing off a far hillside, remembering the dedication of his father and hoping he can measure himself by thatstandard, or detailing the tribulations of high-school life: parents with cancer, loser friends, making mistakes and making amends, and hormones, hormones, hormones. An artful class portrait of a town seen through the lens of a game, a tight-throated personal journey back into youth, and a keen description of the life force that hockey can be.
"The more I read of Ice Time, the more I was hooked. Far more than just a chronicle of a high school hockey season, Jay Atkinson's book is an evocative, bittersweet, poetic journey of a grown man trying, as we all try, not to recapture youth but to remember the splendor of it."
-- H. G. Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights
"Jay Atkinson, in only his second book, has taken himself over the top. For those who have played a sport, and -- curiously -- for those who never have, this ice-smooth prose will resonate in memory for a long time. About the prose: For the most part, it is quiet, but there is a subtext that renders father-son love and the hard price of victory, as well as the equally hard price of defeat. Somewhere in this book, you will find your heart joyously broken."
-- Harry Crews, author of A Childhood: The Biography of a Place
From the Hardcover edition.