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September 16, 2015
Please welcome back, once again, our 2015 Toronto Book Awards blogger, Kim MacMullen! Kim has been reading and reviewing the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 15, 2015.
The next review is of The Last Hockey Game by Bruce McDougall (Goose Lane Editions). Bruce McDougall will be reading at The Word On The Street at Harbourfront Centre on September 27th, at 1:00 PM and again at 5:00 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.
On the surface, Bruce McDougall’s The Last Hockey Game is a detailed play-by-play account of game six of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1967. At its core, it’s a detailed history of the past and present state of Canada’s game, presented via a compelling narrative that is exhaustively researched and filled with the captivating memories of the players, families, owners, and employees of the National Hockey League.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs faced off against the Montreal Canadiens on that Tuesday night in May of 1967, change was looming over the NHL—the players would unionize under the NHLPA in June, the establishment of the World Hockey Association was just around the corner, and the NHL itself would expand from six teams to twelve the following year, forever altering the nature of the game itself. McDougall examines the origins and results of those changes, neither condemning nor condoning them, and successfully avoids the common idealization and idolization of the Original Six era. Refusing to shy away from the darker aspects of the league and the game at the time, McDougall leaves no unpleasant stone unturned—from the crooked dealings and racism of some owners to players’ adultery and substance abuse, and the Maple Leafs Gardens sex abuse scandal, McDougall unflinchingly removes the rose-tinted glasses with which many view the centennial-era league, which ultimately serves to show a far more human side of those involved. These were real people with real problems, and it’s not only okay to talk about it—it’s responsible.
But as much as The Last Hockey Game brings a much-needed reality check to a game that has been elevated in the minds and hearts of fans for almost a century, it also celebrates the game and its place in our past and present. The players weren’t and aren’t perfect and jacking up ticket prices was just as lousy in the Ballard era as it is now, but hockey still thrills its fans, whose love of these storied franchises is passed down from generation to generation. By telling the truth of the lives of the players and owners and families and staff, McDougall demystifies the game and lets fans connect with their heroes on an even more human level, understanding what they put themselves through to be part of Canada’s game. And while the level of detail may be rather in-depth for casual readers, The Last Hockey Game is filled with the kind of minutiae that will please hockey fans and trivia buffs alike (Rogie Vachon drank tea from a thermos in the lockeroom before games; Bobby Rousseau didn’t wear socks when he played because he wanted to feel the ice through his skates; Allan Stanley was supposed to accompany Bill Barilko on his fatal fishing trip in 1955).
True to the book’s title, May 2, 1967 would be the last time the Leafs and the Habs would face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals (with the Leafs’ failure to reappear in the Finals notwithstanding)—after several expansions and conference realignments (plus one high-sticking call that never was), Toronto and Montreal can no longer meet any later in the playoffs than the semi-finals. This on its own separates the modern game from its golden-era version of itself, as do the massive changes the league underwent after the end of the 1967 season, but McDougall doesn’t despair for hockey—he just tells us how it got to where it is. And, armed with these stories and the lessons of the past 100 years of professional hockey, where it goes next might just be up to us.
Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.
According to The Last Hockey Game‘s description, who is quoted with saying “Hello, Canada and hockey fans in the United States?” Check out our website, and send the answer to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!
Keep an eye out for our final Toronto Book Awards review, and one more chance to enter! Coming up next: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Contest closes September 23, 2015.