CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 12 . . . .February 18, 2005
Jacques Plante, in case you keep a respectful distance from the sport of hockey like I do, is the first goalie in the NHL to insist on wearing a mask to protect his face. He was also a very good hockey player. He pioneered the "wandering" style of goaltending, in which the goalie comes out of the net to play the puck; he was the first to signal icing calls; and he won a raft of awards over the course of his career.
The Goalie Mask is a simple and lovable tale of a grandfather's introducing his grandson to the story of this hockey innovator and what his hockey legacy can teach the rest of us. Young Marc is passionate hockey player who, like his dad and Gramps before him, finds his hockey bliss in the net. He knows that the pros leave the net on occasion to stop the puck and pass it away, but, because he lacks the skills, his coach tells him to stay put. When Marc seeks out his dad for practice, Dad passes Marc off to Grandpa, who holds Marc and his two buddies rapt as he describes the night in 1959 when Jacques took a puck in the face and refused to return to the ice without a fiberglass mask of his own design. The mask did not obstruct his vision, as the coach feared, and Plante changed the game forever. And he didn't do it by breaking the rules, Marc's dad argues. "He just believed in what he was doing, and knew his own abilities.... Sometimes you don't follow the trends, you set them yourself." And with practice and encouragement, Marc works on improving his puck-handling skills so he can return to his coach and make a strong case for playing outside the net like the pros.
Much like Number Four, Bobby Orr, the last collaboration by Leonetti and illustration Shayne Letain, in this book hockey is virtue, or to quote the razor blade ad, it's all about "being the best a man can get." The kids are polite and engaged, adults are kind, wise, and experienced, and there are no villains or politics or teasing. Letain's illustrations are colourful, bright-eyed and sincere; even his hockey players are clean cut and benevolent, more Dick Van Dyke than Tiger Williams. We don't even get to see the infamous puck injury or real blood (as the flashback sections of the story are black and white.) I did miss seeing how Plante dealt with the reactions of his teammates, who might have considered safety for sissies, and at times the absolute lack of unpleasantness in this book verges on parody.
But that's O.K. We spend enough time worrying about rink bullies, head injuries, and hockey parents behaving badly. We need some clean-cut Canadian hockey lore. If hockey is a large part of our country's cultural identity, then there's nothing wrong with books that remind us that the game can be about trying hard, building character, and having passion for sport. The love of the game, the equipment, the moves, the rituals, and its mastery, come shining through, in the text, the illustrations, and even the font.
This is a fantastic way to turn a boy onto a book. It's a wonderful read-aloud that would work for five to 10-year-olds. The writing style is simple and descriptive, making it an appealing independent reading choice for the seven to 12-year-old as well. A postscript on Jacques Plante offers the all important stats and more insight into the player whose hockey passion as a boy was satisfied by listening to radio broadcasts through the ceiling from the man who lived upstairs. What a wonderful idea to share with kids—that if you love the game, you make sacrifices, but you also stand up for what you believe in. And not a reference to contracts or paychecks in sight.
Lori Walker is completing a Masters in Children's Literature at UBC.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.