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My Country is Hockey    by Brian Kennedy order for
My Country is Hockey
by Brian Kennedy
Order:  USA  Can
Argenta, 2011 (2011)
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In the introduction to My Country is Hockey: How Hockey Explains Canadian Culture, History, Politics, Heroes, French-English Rivalry and Who We Are as Canadians Brian Kennedy writes, 'One goal of this book is to figure out where the game came from, what it means in Canada today and what its future significance for Canadian culture might be.'

Although the emphasis here is on Canadian ice hockey the sport is obviously also played throughout North America; thus there is much here that would interest anyone who follows the sport.

'Hockey is more solidly rooted at the centre of the Canadian psyche now than it ever was. To understand contemporary Canada at all, and to predict what the country will look like in the future, hockey must be considered as one of the prime sources of its history, identity, imagery and values,' explains Kennedy. That is one of the book's key premises, along with the assumption that those who read it 'do so precisely because they are trying to find out more about themselves, the hockey-mad they are looking for a way to describe who they are, not trying on an identity for size'.

That being the case, you'll find not only the background of Canadian ice hockey and the role of professional hockey in North America but also information about the iconic 1972 Summit Series between the USSR and Canada, and the Richard Riot of 1955 as well as the memorable Canadian Olympic victories of 2002 and 2010.

As he weaves ice hockey into the daily fabric of Canadian life, Kennedy not only looks at the sport from the players' perspective but also the fans'. It comes as no surprise that he links Aristotle's idea of catharsis as it relates to drama to how his countrymen view hockey. He says it serves 'a similar function by allowing us to vent our energies in support of our favorite club'.

The author also credits the sport with creating the Canadian team spirit concept that makes the land's citizens so cooperative and willing to sacrifice for the common good, versus the American fixation with individual accomplishments.

No serious book on ice hockey can duck the issue of violence, which is an inherent part of the sport. Hard checking, a stick in an opponent's face, team and individual brawls, and retaliation for perceived infractions not caught by the refs are all part of the game.

On one hand Kennedy accepts this as being part of the game. Yet he does see these actions as counter to what he calls 'the code of right behavior' and he wonders if the time is near when the league and fans are willing to call a halt to the gratuitous violence that has become the norm.

Although I am not an ice hockey fan, I found this book both very entertaining and highly informative. The one thing I did notice, though, is that for all practical purposes Kennedy ignores the role of women's ice hockey. Until the very end of the book he has little if anything to say about the ladies, but then he quickly devotes just five pages of the afterword to their accomplishments on ice.

Kennedy acknowledges that it is worth noting that the women's game 'is less like the NHL in certain respects and more like the game most of us play ... the game the women play is the repository of values that are purely Canadian healthy competition in an atmosphere of restraint'.

That's a curious observation given how for 320 pages of the 326 page text the females' play and accomplishments are not acknowledged to any great extent. I'm sure there may be quite a few readers who will take issue with the assumption that the country of ice hockey is an exclusively male domain!

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