Athletes as readers and writers

Someone had to be kidding!

Georges Laraque, everybody’s idea of a goon NHL hockey player, was going to defend a novel on CBC! Surely, there was a mistake!

How could anybody whose job was to intimidate other players have enough intellect to read a book, let alone defend it.

But as I listened to him talking about books on CBC’s Canada Reads program last week, I realized there was another side to him. Obviously, he kept his interests in books carefully hidden while he was the designated fighter for the various teams he played hockey for. Whether in Edmonton, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, or Montreal, he checked hard and dropped his gloves quickly.

He chose to defend The Bone Cage, a novel by Kootenay writer Angie Abdou published by NeWest Press.

It seemed an appropriate choice for a former hockey player as it dealt with two athletes’ lives as they prepared for the Olympics. He would have understood the hours of gruelling practice necessary to achieve at the highest level. He would have recognized the successes and failures of the female swimmer and the male wrestler.

In the end, Abdou’s book, defended effectively by Laraque, was not chosen as the number-one book for Canada to read. That honour went to Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans, which details the shenanigans surrounding a political campaign to get a parliamentary seat in Ottawa.

To his credit, Laraque spoke highly of Fallis’ book and voted for it on the last day of debate.

I should know better than to underestimate athletes in relation to the literary world. Ken Dryden, the once famous Montreal Canadien goalie, a hall of famer, wrote the quintessential hockey book called The Game. Not only did he show an acute understanding of all aspects of hockey, but his book is an articulate tour de force that is unmatched in sports writing.

Three years ago, I was teaching a section of College Composition at Selkirk College. One day two of my best writers stopped after class and apologized for having to be away for the next class. They said they had to go on a road trip to play several out of town hockey games.

I truly didn’t know these two were hockey players. These two, Kai Bauman and Chris Cucullu, were so polite, always on time, and wrote good essays. In fact, Kai Bauman’s essays were so poignant and sensitively written that publication was possible. I searched local line-ups and finally located them on the Nelson Leafs squad.

And they were top-notch hockey players, too, leading the Leafs to the league championship that year and nearly winning the Cyclone Taylor cup.

This year I have three hockey players in my College Literature class. I thought it interesting that these three students always hung out together and were all absent for the same class. When they wrote their poetry essays, they all chose the same poem to analyze. But I didn’t know they were hockey players until last week when I read the sport pages of the Castlegar News.

Leaping out at me was a picture of Taylor Anderson, the Rebels’ team captain, a student in my literature class. Then I read about the Rebels’ recent game and learned about the phenomenal scoring abilities of Erik Wentzel and Anthony DeLong, also literature students.

Wow, I thought. Here are three junior hockey players, who are physically-tough, but who also read poetry and short stories and write effectively.

Like former NHLer Georges Laraque on CBC radio, these students showed me that being interested in books and being a top athlete can go hand in hand.