Right from the name of the publisher (Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, based in Saskatchewan) to the pre-dedication page which states, "So I write a book about being a long suffering fan of the Boston Bruins and what do they do? They go and win a Stanley Cup in 2011. Typical." you know you're in for a wholly Canadian experience. Which means a lot of life stories pivot off a hockey experience.
I swear, I could tell my whole life story inside a framework of hockey base notes. From "oh yeah, that was the year my Dad and I went to see the Habs when they were still in the Forum" to "we didn't get to go to the annual pre-summer family gathering at 'the camp' because the Blackhawks made the finals that season". In our family we defined events, very often, by hockey. So and so was born two years after the last Habs win, they got married the year Howe finally retired or Uncle Tim will refuse to die until the Leafs win another cup. So, the book resonated with me because I "got it" and it took me back to a time when we really did sit around, cross-legged, in a little circle, trading hockey cards. I got a Bobby Orr rookie card when I was five because my older cousin said, "Naw, he's a defensemen, they never get lots of goals. You take it."
I had just finished Mike Babcock's "Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams" which is, essentially, a book about motivation: self motivation, motivation by a grander cause, motivating, being motivated, finding ways to motivate under scrutiny and pressure and finding motivation when it counts most. It's not quite the "story of the 2010 Olympics from a Team Canada perspective" but it is. It's about dreaming, reaching, exceeding, overcoming and coming up big. He digs into his personal repertoire of life-changing events, turns them over in his hand so you can see all sides and puts them down as a paper-weight to hold them still while he explains the lessons he learned from them and how he put them into practice. If you're a coach, a teacher, a trainer, a boss, a mentor, or a motivational speaker, you'll be making notes. If you're a hockey fan you'll realize there's more to winning than ... well, winning.
Todd Devonshire's book is like the book Mike Babcock would write if he had never become a coach or went on to carry one of the heaviest weights ever slapped onto a man's shoulders (winning hockey gold on Canadian soil). While Babcock's book is aimed to teach using hockey moments as stand-ins for any moment of personal decision and challenge, Devonshire's is about being taught by those same hockey moments. While they both fall under the rubric of motivational, and both contain an underlying element of memoir, one is about creating motivation and the other is about accepting it. The two might well be bookends, if you will, for the "Canadian Hockey Experience".
In fact, Devonshire says in the same pre-dedication page that his wife said to him, "Just write, get it done." She might have been quoting Mike Babcock, if not in actual words, certainly in spirit.
From his parents using a very familiar-sounding set of motivational tactics which included invoking the name of his hockey hero, Bobby Orr, whenever they wanted him to do something ("You know, I bet the reason Bobby Orr was such a good skater was because he hopped on his bike every day and grabbed his dad a pack of smokes. How else do you think he got such strong legs?") to shared family time around the console television (that only got two channels, if it was anything like my experience) watching Hockey Night in Canada, to the problems created in a household that had both Bruins AND Habs fans, Devonshire does credit to the art of reliving experiences through the porthole of hockey.
He once refused to open an instructional video from Guy Lafleur, waited by the mailbox for the annual Boston Bruins review in book form every year, kept the puck from his first goal in the same tin he kept his first lost tooth. They happened on the same day, in the same moment. Anyone from Halifax or Cole Harbour will understand his incredible excitement when the Bruins' number one draft pick for 1980 was a local boy, Barry Pederson.
Devonshire isn't weaving a tale or building a tapestry, he is unfolding and unraveling, and taking you with him. He's telling you not only what the sport of hockey meant to him, but how it insinuated itself into his world-view and personal philosophies. Essentially, he is saying it helped raise him as much as his Bruins loving father who was also his first hockey coach and his Habs loving mother who was a lone dissenter, a shot of red in a sea of black.
Anchored with a couple of clever pieces of "correspondence" from Guy Lafleur, it's a fun, entertaining and sentimental read. And, if nothing else, there's a comforting takeaway. Change what you will, go from 6 teams to 30 teams, create slick advertising and build fancy websites, you can't change the fan experience because that is lived in the heart. You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
There's a story in the book about how Devonshire and his father came across Ken Dryden's The Game as they were going through the family's hockey related memorabilia and the father said, "That book could have been called The Crying Game". That led the author to share his memories of making fun of Dryden in a way that any current Bruins fan or any current Habs fan will find as familiar as the names on their twitter feed.
It starts out with, "Boo hoo, poor Ken Dryden ..."
I really enjoyed the book. It was entertaining and familiar, the stories could have been mine or, if you grew up around hockey, yours. Reading them inside the framework of a different console televison, a different (but the same) "Dad chair", a different set of team loyalties left me smiling, nodding my head, missing my father and being very thankful that I could, in fact, remember the smell of "rink burgers".