In September 1975 at the age of twenty-three Canada's most prolific
poet John B. Lee joined a teachers' pickup hockey team called The
Skatin' Scolors. By the time he was in his mid-forties Lee was
playing hockey seven times a week, sometimes twice a day and
sometimes all day outdoors with his two young sons. Although he no
longer plays summer hockey, at age sixty Lee continues to play
three times a week all winter. A self-confessed pylon Lee plays for
the love of the game. In a chapter on NHL Power Play tabletop
hockey, Lee writes, "I was a Canadian boy in love with hockey. Ice
hockey, field hockey, floor hockey, road hockey, hockey in the yard
on the grass slamming an Indian rubber ball so it spanked off the
back wall loosening the brickwork to score, and tabletop hockey."
Never one content to write about obvious things, Lee's wonderful
memoir ranges from affectionate recollections of his father's laced
up hockey skates tethered together hanging from a spike like a
ripening duel of shot waterfowl, to eating skater's snow to slake
his thirst, to darker memories such as the profound impression left
on him as a child hearing the news of the tragic collapse of the
Listowel Memorial arena, and annual bouts of pneumonia
necessitating that Lee quit playing organized hockey as a sickly
and disappointed child. In more recent experience Lee writes about
a conversation with a Cuban friend who has never seen natural ice.
In "The Vocabulary of Water," Lee writes a celebratory piece on the
varieties of natural ice appearing just off the shores of Lake
Erie. Never one to avoid unpleasant topics he quotes one fellow
hockey player's anger on the bench, "You ain't nothin' but an
effing poet, you never broke a sweat in your life," and another
more flattering epithet, "You're a philosophical bastard, aren't
you." A ribald, often hilarious, sometimes profoundly moving
celebration of pickup hockey, warts and all, in a final piece
lamenting the end of playing for an eighty-seven year old hockey
player Davey Jones, Lee closes his book with these deeply affecting
lines, "You have to know that when people see what's happening with
Davey, they see themselves in a year or two," Frank says. And he
says it slow. Slow enough to sink in. As if he were saying, "You
know, no matter how much we might love them, eventually we're going
to have to eat the dogs." Lee's memoir joins his other popular
books on hockey, "The Hockey Player Sonnets: overtime edition.,"
and "That Sign of Perfection: from bandy legs to beer legs--poems
and stories on the game of hockey," and like all great sports
writing it makes you care even if you aren't a hockey enthusiast.
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