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Two new hockey books bring a much-neglected voice to the forefront, that of the hockey mom. Each book, written by women on opposite ends of the continent, take a decidedly different approach, but the goals are remarkably the same.
From small-town British Columbia comes Angie Abdou, with Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom (ECW Press, out Sep. 4), and from Syracuse, New York, it's Christie Casciano Burns, with My Kids Play Hockey: Essential Advice for Every Hockey Parent (Skyhorse Publishing, out now). Together, they make a potent one-two punch.
Casciano Burns shared why she thought her book belonged on shelves. “I found a lot of great books about hockey coaching, hockey training, hockey 'how to' books, but I could not find anything quite like the one I had envisioned -- a collection of hockey parent stories, passionate and honest, and not an instruction manual,” she wrote in an email ... as a passenger coming home from one of her kids' early-season hockey games.
Abdou, who is a celebrated novelist (including the Canada Reads-nominated The Bone Cage) and teaches writing as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University, went on a very personal journey in her book. It's part autobiographical and part exploration of the youth hockey world, through her young son's love of the game. “I feel like I have a better understanding of family life and the role of youth sports,” wrote Abdou in an email. “I often tell students: 'Write the book you want to read.' I've never before followed my own advice as closely as I did with this book. Not only did I write the book I wanted to read, but I wrote the book that I needed to read. By tackling hockey culture from a parent's perspective, I created space to think deeply about the way we're living our lives, right now. I'm starting to get a sense of how quickly this phase of life goes.”
While Casciano Burns often keeps it light, offering up a couple of pages on everything from airing out the stinky equipment to crock-pot meals for a quick, healthy dinner, she also gets serious, talking about issues with coaches, dealing with disappointment, and generally trying to put a perspective on the fact that it's a game, and the parents are there to support, not be the centre of attention.
“I think parents way overthink this sport. They need to have fun and let their kids enjoy being kids,” said Casciano Burns. “There is no one-size fits all in hockey. It needs to fit your needs and family.”
There are plenty of times where Abdou addresses similar issues, but it goes deeper too, as its specifically what she will do for her son and his hockey obsession. Here's a passage from early in the book: “I tell Ollie I will pay the bills and I will sacrifice my weekends and I will brave the icy highways and I will chaperone the crazed nine-year-olds. I will put up with the cowbells and the shrieking moms and the angry dads. I will do it all – as long as Ollie loves it.”
When talking about minor hockey, and its issues, like concussion worries, meddling parents, win-at-all-costs coaches and management, Abdou and Casciano Burns are very parallel in their thinking.
Since My Kids Play Hockey had its genesis in columns that Casciano Burns writes for USA Hockey Magazine, the tone is easy-going and readable. With the help of her editors, including USA Hockey editor Harry Thompson, a number of past columns were chosen, expanded upon, and other sections were added. Plus, Casciano Burns bolstered her lineup with other voices, like a mother who has a daughter goaltender. “I discovered the contributors through their blogs and social media posts and each one of them got me to laugh, cry and totally relate,” said Casciano Burns. “They are fantastic writers and great parents.” She too runs a blog, “Syracuse Hockey Mom's Network” at http://thepuckhog.blogspot.com
In short, Casciano Burns' book is an any-person kind of read, accessible, relatable, something you can pick up and read in pieces, maybe at the rink between periods. An award-winning reporter and anchor for WSYR-TV in Syracuse since 1986, she can connect with people. As well, Casciano Burns has written two hockey books for children, The Puck Hog and The Puck Hog Volume 2: Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid
“Fiction really was so much fun. I enjoyed creating characters and dialogue, setting scenes that young hockey players could relate to and hopefully engage them in thoughts and conversations about teamwork, selflessness and sacrifice,” concluded Casciano Burns. “Writing about real life grown-up hockey, I guess my goals were similar!”
Abdou (www.abdou.ca) admitted that she found non-fiction “scarier,” way more challenging than her four novels. “I definitely feel more exposed and vulnerable with the publication of this book than I ever have with the publication of a novel,” she said.
Home Ice is page-turning and compelling in a whole different way. It's about Abdou, her family, her relationships with her husband and two children, and her role as a parent; or, as Abdou said, consider it a “voyeuristic peek into the writer's life.” Her brother briefly played hockey with notorious coach Graham James, and his recounting of a close call with the pedophile James in Moose Jaw is harrowing to both his sister and the reader. All the “real life” Abdou is mixed in with an almost scholarly look at various aspects of youth sports.
“I hope the book serves to create a bridge between academic hockey research and the average hockey parent,” related Abdou. “With access to that expert information, parents can start to make informed decisions about how they approach hockey, and all sports.”
The hockey world doesn't exactly celebrate hockey mothers the way it does fathers. For every Colleen Howe that most fans would know, how many times was Phyllis Gretzky put in the spotlight? Times are changing, and most NHL teams have a “mother's weekend” to compliment the separate, long-running weekends where the fathers travel with their grown-up professionals.
At its core, though, is a simple question: What is it going to take to have mothers better appreciated and more a part of the minor hockey world?
“This is a good question. I wish I had the answer to it,” said Abdou. “I do talk about implicit sexism in minor hockey in Home Ice. I think I almost didn't realize that sexism at the arena existed until I started writing about it -- hypermasculinity is such an ingrained part of the sport world that it can go unnoticed and unchallenged. I was raised in a hockey/wrestling family so I'm quite familiar with that kind of men's world -- the macho posing, the silencing of women, the boys-will-be-boys mentality, the aggressive atmosphere, and the underlying threat of violence. It's so easy to go along with these attitudes because it's 'always been that way.' It's easy to dismiss inappropriate or even violent behaviour as 'just old school.' If the culture is ever to change, it'll take some strong women inserting their voices into this conversation. As I did research for this book, I was happy to find some of those strong women's voices already in play.”
And now you, dear reader, know about two more strong women's voices.
A NON-HOCKEY BOOK FROM A HOCKEY WRITER
David Dupuis, SIHR member, and the man behind a biography on Terry Sawchuk, and who teamed with Waxy Gregoire on autobiographies for both Red Kelly and Pierre Pilote, has been working on a series of five historical novels for some 40 years. He's self-publishing, and the first book, The Seven Keys of Hildegard: Of Mercy & Of Death, is just coming out now. He's hosting a book launch on September 22nd, Brian Orser Hall, in Penetanguishene, Ontario, at 2:00 p.m. Talk about sticking with a project – kudos David!
THE ONSLAUGHT BEGINS
Looking at the upcoming releases of hockey books during the fall, one can't help but be impressed. There are autobiographies from Curtis Joseph and Bernie Federko, a Bobby Orr photo book, more from prolific writers Don Cherry, Damien Cox, and Bob McKenzie, and a whole lot more. There's even a Hollywood tie-in with Jay Baruchel's Born Into It: A Fan's Life. I'll be doing my best to share the stories behind the books here. Feel free to get in touch about a book that is coming up!
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