The author of the most thoroughly researched analysis of hockey literature you’ll ever have the delight of reading hasn’t seen a full NHL game in about 10 years. Needing a topic for his Ph.D thesis, Jason Blake recognized a lack of commentary on a subject that is ubiquitous in Canadian culture. Plus, “I had a hell of a lot of time on my hands in Slovenia and figured what the heck.”
So, from that tiny Eastern European country that has produced just one elite player, came “Canadian Hockey Literature,” a smart compilation of Blake’s observations about the game’s meaning to writers, readers and everyone else in Canada. For what has to be one of the coolest Ph.D theses ever, Blake read more than two-dozen hockey novels for adults — including “50 Mission Cap” — and “perhaps a hundred short stories.”
Published last year, “Canadian Hockey Literature” (University of Toronto Press) reveals how deeply ingrained the game is in our collective consciousness.
“It’s everywhere. Hockey shows up effortlessly, or seemingly effortlessly, in all kinds of literature. It’s something that resonates with every Canadian. Even those who don’t like hockey, or have never played it, can relate to its importance,” Blake told me during a Skype conversation the other day.
The Torontonian also noticed that the mythic moments of the game — those scenes where hockey helps bring about epiphany and meditative introspection for its characters — occur in the pastoral setting of a public rink or private frozen pond.
“You couldn’t really have those moments in organized hockey. It would just be too hard to sell to readers,” Blake said, noting the cynicism that surrounds all sports, where greed and corruption spoil any attempts to romanticize the feathering of a puck toward twine or the ardor you feel when muscle ripples down the back of your leg upon the letting go of a shot that has a chance.