February 18, 2009

The Stick by Bruce Dowbiggin

When I heard of the 260 page book about the hockey stick, I must admit to being a bit skeptical. How could an author carry the reader's attention for that long about a single piece of hockey equipment?

That was the task facing Bruce Dowbiggin, and he handled it masterfully. Dowbiggin is a very accomplished columnist and beat writer with several book titles on his resume, but none of them rank as high on my list of favorites as 2001's The Stick: A history, a celebration, an elegy.

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca | chapters.indigo.ca | Amazon.com

Dowbiggin opens by exploring the hockey stick's origins among the Mi'kmaq indians of Nova Scotia. He moves on to the mass produced wooden weapons to the evolution to graphite and composite sticks that have rendered the wooden hockey stick extinct, at least at serious levels of play.

That is all expected, and dutifully chronicled but in a way that is far more interesting than you would expect. He brings in narratives, often first hand, of some key players in the stick's evolution. Players like Stan Mikita, Bobby and Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and a host of more modern warriors like Adam Oates, Eric Lindros and Jeremy Roenick. It is the player's doting attention to their craft's main tool that makes the story of the stick so interesting.

Equally interesting is how the stick's evolution has greatly impacted the evolution of the game itself. Dowbiggin makes an interesting case that no other on-ice development has had such significant contribution to the game over the years.

Dowbiggin does try to connect the story of the hockey stick to the story of Canada. He writes the book with the purpose of defending the hockey stick as "a quintessentially Canadian symbol," calling the stick "as Canadian as maple syrup and the call of the loon." I do not think the book completely makes that connection because in order to properly chronicle the history of the stick the author needs to cover the increasing globalization of the industry.

This book is nothing short of excellent, appealing to readers who enjoy sports reminiscing as well as readers who prefer more in depth cultural and societal analysis. For me, that is what every great hockey book should strive to accomplish.

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca | chapters.indigo.ca | Amazon.com


jchi April 20, 2009 at 5:13 PM  

I agree, this is a wonderful treatment of what could have been a very dry subject. I noticed a couple of factual errors that drove me crazy though. Perhaps they were corrected in a later edition.

In one place, Dowbiggin says, "Fittingly, Hextall — the grandson of Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall and son of Bryan Hextall Jr. — became the first goalie credited with an NHL goal (he was the last Philadelphia player to touch the puck before the old Colorado Rockies put one in their own net)."
Had it happened that way, it would certainly have been fitting. But Ron Hextall never played against "the old Colorado Rockies". I think Dowbiggin mistakenly attributed Billy Smith's accomplishment to Hextall. I'm kind of surprised nobody caught this before it was published.

And a little fact-checking thing, when describing J.P. Parise's lunge at the referee in Game 8 of the Canada-Russia series, he identifies West German referee Josef Kompalla as being Czech. Minor, but annoying.

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