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  • Hockey
  • Written by Michael McKinley
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  • Written by Michael McKinley
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Hockey

A People's History

Written by Michael McKinleyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael McKinley

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Now in paperback, updated with a new final chapter!

Lavishly illustrated, beautifully designed, impeccably researched, and wonderfully written, Hockey: A People’s History is the altogether irresistible companion book to the CBC-Television series of the same name, airing in Fall 06. A must-have for every fan!

Hockey is not just Canada’s national game, it is part of every Canadian’s psyche, whether we like it or not. Watching it, playing it, coaching it, and talking about it are up there with eating on the list of the top ten things Canadians do most. In the first half of the last century it mirrored our increasing confidence as a nation and in the last years of the 1900s, which saw an aggressive but unsettling expansion of the game south of the border, it reflected our growing wariness of American influence on Canada.

Hockey: A People’s History, like the ten-part CBC series it accompanies, tells the story of this breathtakingly fast game from its hotly contested origins, and the surge in its popularity after 1875, when it was first taken inside, through the rise and fall and rise again of women’s hockey, the sagas of long-lost leagues, such as the Pacific Coast Hockey League and, more recently, the World Hockey Association, to the present day and the first-ever lockout of players by the one remaining league. In that time, while play has changed only slightly (every generation of Canadians has complained about the growing violence of the game) hockey itself has been transformed from a rough and ready winter sport to a business worth many billions of dollars, played by millionaires.

But Hockey: A People’s History is not a business story, rather, it is the story of the men and woman who helped make the game what it is today.

It also tells the story of all the great moments in hockey: not just the unforgettable 1972 victory against Russia, but victories no less glorious at the time, such as the Leafs’ previously unheard-of third consecutive Stanley Cup in 1949. Through its lavishly illustrated pages skate the players, the coaches, the owners, many of them still legendary, too many of them almost forgotten. They are the reason why Canadians have stayed true to the game.

Excerpt

In the Cariboo country of British Columbia, another young man had fallen in love with the sport, too, and while the Alkali Lake Ranch where he worked was relatively insulated from the hardships of the Depression, Alec Antoine was both a cowboy and an Indian, and as such, knew all about deprivation. Whenever Antoine’s Alkali Lake hockey team made the twelve-hour sled journey in sub-zero temperatures into the town of Williams Lake, fifty-six kilometres away, to play hockey against white teams, their welcome was even colder than the weather. The Alkali Lake team, who were all members of the Shuswap nation, were barred from staying in a hotel, or eating in a restaurant, by the colour barrier. So, after watering their horses at the creek, they would make their way up a hill to the outdoor rink on Third Avenue, where they shovelled snow to clear a place to pitch their tents, build a fire, cook a supper of deer meat and boiled potatoes, and then sleep next to the campfire for warmth.

The next day they would suit up in their much-patched green and white uniforms, a gift from the Woodward Department Store owner, who was married to the daughter of the Alkali Lake rancher, and they would play hockey so beautifully that it moved a young English immigrant, Hilary Place, to write about them. “The Indians loved the game. It gave them an opportunity to prove they were the best at a highly demanding sport. But winning the game was not the only thing that counted. For them, the sheer joy of the contest of skills was important: a quick turn around the opposing player; skating, turning, stickhandling, all the skills that made hockey the fastest, toughest, and most elegant game ever devised by man were their delight. They played the game not only with grace and power and skill, but with their souls as well.”

The Alkali Lake Braves, led by the stocky, powerful Antoine at centre, were such a fine, clean team that they won the Northern B.C. amateur league title in 1930—31. At a time when aboriginal children were being forcibly removed from their homes and placed into white-run residential schools, the Braves received an invitation to come, of their own free will, to Vancouver, where their hockey success had been noted by Andy Paull, chief of the Squamish nation. Paull arranged for them to play two matches against a team of all-stars selected from the semi-professional Commercial League (the Commercks). For Paull, the game was about much more than hockey, as he was also president of the North American Indian Brotherhood — the first effort to group aboriginals into a political force. The Brotherhood had organized the tournament to get a little good ink for the Alkali Lake Braves, and in so doing, to get a little good ink for all aboriginals. It wasn’t quite the same as Joe Boyle’s Dawson City Nuggets heading to Ottawa to prospect for Stanley Cup silver, but the curiosity in Vancouver was high, stoked by a little good-natured taunting from Chief Paull, reported in the Vancouver Sun.

“Squamish Indians are making preparations for the entertainment of the boys from the frigid Cariboo and will house them at the North Shore reservation,” the newspaper read on January 9, 1932. “‘It will be the Indians’ night to howl, we hope’ said Andy ‘and we of the Squamish will have a 40-piece band at the game. We hope to play our boys off the ice to the strains of “See the Conquering Heroes.”’ One of the Alkali players is 50, and a grandfather. Yet, Mr. Paul [sic] says he has the meticulous word of Harry Taylor, Northern Indian agent, that it takes a darn fast skater to even catch pieces of this hardy ancient of the north as he flits hither and yon on the steel blades.”

The Braves, who played on average only eight games per season on outdoor rinks, found themselves face to face with a star team three times their size — and in an artificial ice rink holding four thousand fans. The series was highly anticipated back in the Cariboo, where people turned on their radios to listen to the matches, though the mountainous landscape was no friend to radio waves. “Reception was terrible and the station kept fading in and out,” recalled Hilary Place. “Just when you heard that Alkali was starting down the ice, the radio faded out and the results of the rush were lost in the statics. The last big fade-out happened at the very end of the game. When we heard the final score, Alkali had been beaten by one goal. Vancouver sportswriters had predicted a walkover, with scores of 15 to 1 for the Vancouver team, so we Cariboo people were more satisfied with the showing.”

The Vancouver press were harder to please, and typical of the attitudes of the time, assessed the Braves’ performance by making it racial: “The Alkalis of today start in pursuit of the puck when the whistle goes off and they never cease until the period ends” reported the Sun. “There is little system to their attack. Just dogged pursuit. They are still a primitive people, these silent, shadowy folk of the northland and they take their sport in the same way.” By the time the second match also ended with the Braves losing by a goal to the pros, more than eight thousand Vancouverites had seen for themselves that the Braves were playing the game as it was meant to be played, including the Vancouver Sun reporter. “They did teach Vancouver one lesson. Hockey can be played absolutely without malice. . . . They were beaten last night and they took it with a smile and three lusty cheers. The crowd seemed to like that. Don’t you?”

No less an authority than Lester Patrick, now the general manager of the New York Rangers, liked what he saw so much that he tried to convince Antoine to come to Manhattan, where he would make him the toast of Broadway. But Alec Antoine said no thanks to NHL stardom. He already had a sure thing at fifteen dollars a week and went home to his life as a cowboy on the Alkali Lake Ranch.


From the Hardcover edition.
Michael McKinley

About Michael McKinley

Michael McKinley - Hockey

Photo © Nancy Bell

The author of Hockey: A People's History and four earlier books on hockey, MICHAEL MCKINLEY is also a journalist, a documentary filmmaker, and a screenwriter. A Vancouver native, he was educated at the University of British Columbia and at the University of Oxford. While at Oxford, he was associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. His journalism has appeared in major venues on two continents, including the Guardian, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the National Post, and Saturday Night magazine. He has also written and produced several documentaries for CNN, and one episode of South Park. The Penalty Killing is his first novel.
Praise

Praise

“Sharply illustrated, solidly written . . . McKinley captures each era in fine, consistently entertaining detail.”
Georgia Straight

“There is much to be learned in these gorgeously illustrated pages … It’s a winner.”
The Edmonton Journal

“Hockey’s definitive history.”
— Montreal Gazette

“An indispensable, superbly written look into hockey’s glorious, storied past.”
Edmonton Journal

“One of the most comprehensive and attractive books ever presented about Canada’s national pastime.”
Canadian Book Review Annual


From the Hardcover edition.

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