n 1972, the year Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the first Canada-Russia hockey series, a Toronto publishing house called New Press produced a book entitled The Death of Hockey
. This is what the blurb on the dust jacket said: “What happened to hockey? We sold it cheap, to absentee owners [in the United States]... We let TV degrade schedules, times, even the pace of the game... We saw expansion debase NHL
play to the point that the great majority of scheduled games are boring. We let a handful of rich and greedy men convert a great sport into another branch of American show business. And our national press scarcely said a word. That’s why this book had to be written.” But if it had to be written, it didn’t have to be read — and, for the most part, it wasn’t. Then as now, Canadians weren’t ready to acknowledge that while hockey may be our national religion, most of the services of worship are held elsewhere.
I co-authored The Death of Hockey
with Bruce Kidd, a long-distance runner who won the six-mile event at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and is now dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health at the University of Toronto. Rereading it today, I have two reactions. I am embarrassed by its shrill anti-establishmentarianism (although, by way of excuse, I remind myself that at the time we wrote the book I was barely thirty.) But my second, and by far stronger, response is pride. The book sold only a few thousand copies, which made it a commercial flop. It wasn’t a critical success either. Most of the reviews were written by sportswriters — a genus the book dismissed as “cheerleaders” — and, not surprisingly, they were overwhelmingly unflattering. (I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the book’s few admirers was Ken Dryden, who would later write The Game
, the best book ever written about hockey.) But if it didn’t change the course of the game’s history, as we had hoped, The Death of Hockey
was nevertheless remarkably prescient.
Neither Bruce Kidd nor I would claim to be the writer David Macfarlane is. Macfarlane (no relation, although he is a friend) is one of the country’s most accomplished literary stylists, with a slew of National Magazine Awards and two critically acclaimed books — The Danger Tree
and a novel, Summer Gone
— to prove it. But like Macfarlane’s article in this issue (“Hockeyland
”), the book we wrote thirty-eight years ago was an angry lament for the loss of the game we love. Although it turns out that fewer of us love it than the mythmakers at Tim Hortons and the CBC
would have you believe. As counterpoint to his exploration of the NHL
’s improbable new frontier in the American South, Macfarlane invited Michael Adams, the pollster (Environics) and author (Fire and Ice),
to supply data on Canadians’ changing attitudes toward the game. The results will provide comfort to the many closeted Canadians for whom hockey has little or no appeal.
David Macfarlane isn’t one of them. His love of the game, like mine, has waned only slightly with the passage of time. (After all these years, the prospect of attending an NHL
game still fills me with childlike excitement, even if the event itself is often no more uplifting than “Stompin’ Tom” Connors’ moronic musical paean to the sport.) But whereas Bruce Kidd and I could hope Canada might one day reclaim the game — in the last chapter of The Death of Hockey,
we proposed the creation of a league of community-owned Canadian teams, a concept employed over the years by orphaned CFL
teams — it is impossible today to imagine professional hockey’s centre of gravity will ever shift north of the forty-ninth parallel. And, come to that, it is increasingly difficult to believe hockey at its highest level will ever be played, as it once was, in arenas in Victoria, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Quebec City, and Sydney. Our game indeed.