A Great Game But a Not-So-Great Book

Great GameBefore I get into this review of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and The Rise Of Professional Hockey, I want you, the reader, to know that my opinions of both the current Prime Minister of Canada and our national pastime are in no way reflected in this review, as, of course, I love both Stephen Harper and hockey. Okay, I lied. That’s not exactly true. The truth is: I love one, and the other, not so much. Okay, now that I’ve cleared that up, here’s the review.

A Great Game is a historical account of the rise of professional hockey in the early 1900s in Canada, with a specific focus on the early amateur and then professional Toronto-based teams. These forgotten Toronto teams would lay the groundwork for one of today’s most profitable sports franchises in the world. In the book, Harper outlines in painstaking detail the landscape, culture, and political agendas of the early pioneers of the game. He does present some interesting if not fleeting facts about the style and positions of the early game of hockey. For example, each team played with seven players on the ice: six skaters, one goalie. This added skater was what was referred to as the ‘rover.’ His job was to lead the attack for his respective team. In today’s game, this additional ‘rover’ position no longer exists and is more akin to a modern day offensive defenseman. However, from the old press clippings and photos presented throughout the book, it’s clear Harper has researched the topic meticulously, as each chapter outlines in chronological order the players and teams who challenged for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the early days.

Unfortunately, the book reads like a textbook that you were forced to read in high school. Additionally, I was left wondering who the Prime Minister wrote this book for. I love hockey; I’m pretty much a diehard fan. With that in mind, I had an extremely hard time connecting to forgotten players of the game who played over a century ago, as well as trying to keep track of all the teams that formed and disbanded within the first 20 years or so of professional hockey. It was like trying to decipher my grade 12 math textbook, and just like with my grade 12 math textbook, eventually, I gave up. Comically, the inside jacket of the book states: “This entertaining and original book will captivate fans from start to finish.”  I’m not sure what fans the publisher is referring to, as ‘captivat[ing]’ wouldn’t be the word I would use to describe this “engaging” read.

Now, to the Prime Minister’s credit, all author royalties will be donated to the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services (CFPFSS), so it wouldn’t be fair to not mention that. But in my opinion, that’s not adequate justification for a book that took Harper apparently ten years to write. However, if you’re looking for something to help you pass out at night, because you’ve drank too much coffee, here’s an idea: Buy the book, take it home, get into you PJs, flop down on your bed, and then try to get more than five pages into the book. Seriously, it works like a charm. Also, I think I understand why it took him ten years to write the book, as I’m guessing every time he went back to work on it, he probably fell asleep himself.