By my count, President Barack Obama has written three books under his own pen.
We have one here at home, “The Audacity of Hope,” which one of my sons bought, read and found audacious and hopeful.
Our prime minister is an author, as well. Well, maybe not as “well” in the sense of recounting the struggle to overcome all manner of obstacles to become the leader of the free world.
Stephen J. Harper, while the author of many a treatise on conservative themes before he became prime minister in 2006, has finally delivered his masterwork, a tome he has been laboring upon for many years, requiring deep and meticulous research.
It’s a book about hockey.
My office-party secret Santa gave me a copy of “A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey.”
Normally, being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a book featuring the ancestors of my contemporary hockey heroes would have been a welcome addition to my library.
However, this volume was written by the prime minister, so as a journalist one feels a certain professional scepticism stirred when dealing with the subject matter contained within.
Without getting into a critique of the book — especially since I’ve only managed so far to stickhandle through a few dozen densely fact-ridden pages — the over-arching impression I am left with is how much the game of hockey has changed in the course of a century.
True, the other major professional sports — baseball, basketball, football — have undergone significant transformations over the years in rules, equipment and marketing. Yet, given its contentious, brutal and confusing beginnings — not to mention that it’s played on a field that has a tendency to melt — hockey has been a remarkable survivor.
These thoughts come to mind — again, this is a Leaf fan at the keyboard — as my heroes in blue and white prepare to battle an historic Original Six rival in the Detroit Red Wings on New Year’s Day in what’s called the Winter Classic, to be played at The Big House of the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
I have friends who have been to such a spectacle and say attending a U.S. college football game in a giant stadium is as close as one can get to experiencing the true might, energy and madness of America.
On New Year’s Day, it’ll be hockey, not football that draws what is expected to be a record crowd for a hockey game — at least 100,000 fans, close to half of them from north of the border.
That image of a gigantesque crowd of excited and well-lubricated fans cheering on teams comprising exceedingly well-conditioned and well-paid players, clad in the latest of high-tech armour, skating on a meticulously groomed ice surface, stands in the starkest of contrasts to the early years of professional hockey.
There are many photographs of the dawn of organized hockey in the latter half of the 19th century, but perhaps none captures the rudimentary nature of the game more than an image of a game on the Victoria ice rink in Montreal.
The picture shows a balconied arena festooned with bunting, garlands and flags (including a Stars and Stripes), no boards to protect spectators nor contain the puck, a goal marked by what looks like ski poles, a goalie with no pads, and an ice surface seemingly as crowded with players as a soccer pitch.
The players, dressed in knee-length pants, stockings and beanie caps, no gloves, shin pads or other form of protection, are wearing flimsy skates that amount to little more than blades bolted to boots. Still, as primitive as it all looks, the intensity of the players’ looks as they play the game has doubtless little changed.
Oddly enough, one might say the same thing about the prime minister. As much as Stephen Harper’s character and performance as Canada’s leader may be attacked and challenged, there’s little doubt his passion for hockey finds a common bond with Canadians.
“As a studious and rather unathletic boy,” he writes, his interest in hockey history “helped to compensate for my conspicuous inability on the ice.”
I hear you, brother, er, prime minister.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.