CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
Too Many Men. (Sports Stories; 89).
Lorna Schultz Nicholson.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2006.
128 pp., pbk. & cl. $8.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55028-948-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55028-949-7 (cl.).
Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.
Review by Lois Brymer.
When was the ref going to blow the whistle?
The player kept jabbing. Sam looked for someone to lob the puck to. Steven cross-checked the Giants’ player, knocking him forward. The guy jabbed Sam as he was going down. The whistle blew. The Giants’ players started jumping up and down. Sam looked behind him.
The puck was in the net.
No way! Sam came out of his net and skated toward the ref. “That wasn’t a goal,” he yelled.
“The puck was in before the whistle blew,” replied the ref.
“No, it wasn’t!”
“Sam, take it easy.” Steven put his arm around Sam and skated him back to his net. “Let it go. We’ll get the next one in.”
Sam heard his name from the bench. When he looked over he saw the open gate and Jerry stepping onto the ice, his mask on and his stick in his hand.
Sam was getting pulled.
Bantam goalie Sam Douglas ultimately wants to win a hockey scholarship or eventually have a chance to make the NHL. But the way he has been playing lately on his new team, the Kanata Kings, he is convinced that there is no way this is ever going to happen. In a key game against the Cumberland Giants, with the Kings down 4-0, Coach Darren motions for him to come to the bench. Sam has never been pulled from the net before for doing a bad job. Devastated and disappointed in himself for letting his team down, he feels tears stinging behind his eyes, and all he wants to do is to throw up.
Things definitely haven’t been going well for Sam on or off the ice since his family moved from Calgary to Ottawa. Although he has always made the best team in his age group as the number-one goalie, relocating throws him some challenges. He has to give up a newly-won spot on a top Calgary team to start off as the number-three backup on an Ottawa team that already has two good goalies. As he tries to prove himself, make new friends and win the confidence both of his coach and his fellow team mates, Sam is forced to juggle problems at home and at school with becoming a hockey star.
When his dad goes to Quebec on a business trip, Sam has to “pitch in” and take on extra chores around the house to help his bed-ridden mom who broke her leg in a car accident. His main job is to come home from school every day to cook her lunch (which ends up being burned Kraft Dinner) and to make sure his new puppy, Molly, is fed and gets out for a “pee” (yellow spots on the carpet attest to Sam’s poor timing). His older brothers, Brian and Andy, have their responsibilities too in keeping the household running, but it seems as if they are relying more and more on their younger Grade 8 brother they call “Slammer” to pull up the slack! Running in circles, Sam lets his homework slide and routinely stays up until midnight cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry. When he runs out of time and just can’t do any more, he shoves leftover dirty dishes in the oven and stuffs newspapers, magazines and even garbage under the sofa. As for hockey, he shows up late for practices, both exhausted and unfocussed.
In the meantime, not wanting to worry or upset his mom, Sam tells her little white lies that all is well. However, as things go from bad to worse, it all catches up with him the day he calls his school’s absent line and, in a low voice, disguises himself as his father and reports to the answering machine that “Sam has the flu.” He plays “hookie,” goes to an Ottawa 67’s practice with a pass that his hero, goalie Justin Landry, has given him and finds out that what he has done is not cool. Landry, a role model for Sam, confronts him and gives him some sage advice about “fessing up” to his parents and facing the fact that “everyone has bad games” and that, if he dwells on getting benched, he’ll “never be a goalie.”
Too Many Men is a hockey story from a goalie’s point of view. Dedicated to “all Goalies, you’re special,” the book addresses adjusting to and accepting change, proving self, making new friends, sportsmanship, honesty and family values. In Sam Douglas, Lorna Schultz Nicholson, a former sports journalist and author of other hockey stories in the “Sports Stories” series (Northern Star, Interference, Roughing, Against the Boards and Delaying the Game), has developed a well-rounded character who is not only credible, believable and likeable, but one who invites empathy as he faces one challenge after another. As he comes to terms with his topsy-turvy life, Sam never gives up trying to make things right. His sense of fair play and thinking of others and his desire to please both his team mates and his family are qualities that readers can admire. Even when he is benched, he admits that Jerry, who replaces him in the net, makes some “unbelievable” saves. “Good job” he says. Sam is the kind of guy you would want for a friend or someone you would want to have on your team. Any young person who has ever had to move away and leave friends or team mates behind can identify with Sam, admire him and take comfort in knowing that he or she is not alone.
While Sam’s character successfully carries the story and Nicholson accurately captures the excitement and thrill of the game of hockey, unfortunately at times, the author’s dialogue is unnatural and weakens the plot. In particular, the conversations and bantering in the Douglas household do not always ring true. For example, when Sam’s parents are delayed at the hospital and he has to sleep at his friend Steven’s, he comes home the next morning expecting to find both parents there. He rushes upstairs to their bedroom and finds only his dad asleep in the bed. “Where’s Mom?” he asks, and his dad replies, “She can’t climb the stairs, so she’s sleeping in the spare room. It’s better down there because of the adjoining bathroom.” Does Sam need the explanation that there is an adjoining bathroom for his mother’s convenience, or is this information for the benefit of the reader?
“Do you think I can see her?” asks Sam. His dad answers, “They gave her a lot of painkillers. But once she’s awake she’d love to see you. She’ll probably be a bit out of it for a few days, though.” It’s hard to believe that Sam would ask to see his mother. Wouldn’t most kids just tear downstairs and barge into her room?
In her acknowledgments, Nicholson notes that she writes these hockey stories to promote literacy. With short chapters and sentences, catchy chapter titles (“Minding the Net,” “Too Many Goals” and “Cutting the Angle”) and lots of hockey action that includes slapshots, cross passes, dekes, roofing the puck, and rebounds, Too Many Men has what it takes to get kids reading. As well, Greg Ruhl’s cover illustration of Sam in net as he whips his glove in the air to “snag” a flying puck gives the book pick-up appeal for players and fans alike and hints of the action to follow.
Too Many Men (a reference to a penalty situation when a team has too many men on the ice and in Sam’s case also to circumstances at home where there are too many men under one roof), while not a great story is a good one. As Wayne Gretzky is quoted on the cover, “Lorna’s books teach the importance of having good values both in hockey and in life.”
Lois Brymer is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Master of Arts in Children’s Literature Program, a West Vancouver library volunteer, and a former publicist and public relations practitioner.
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