CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
The Hat Trick.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2010.
274 pp., pbk., $15.99.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
“Did you mean to kill Charlie?”
“What the hell kind of question is that?”
“Just answer it.”
“Of course I didn’t mean to kill him,” Ricky snapped.
Darryl smiled kindly. “All right then. I guess it was an accident after all.” Ricky didn’t respond, so he continued. “Ricky, you’re a good person. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I hit him,” Ricky interrupted.
“Yeah, you hit him. And guys have been hitting each other in hockey games for a hundred years now. Your situation just had a horrible result. I read in the paper that the Leafs think Charlie had been playing hurt since a game in Edmonton a couple of weeks ago. Do you know how many concussions Charlie had?”
“Five,” Darryl answered. “So tell me Ricky. Why would a man with five known concussions play when he was probably suffering from a sixth?”
Ricky looked at the floor and didn’t answer.
As the novel’s title and cover art suggest. The Hat Trick is a book about hockey, one in which a Canadian teen achieves his dream, one he shares with many young Canadian boys, that of playing in The Show, the NHL. At the story’s centre is Ricky Phillips who is 14-years-old and 6 feet 2 inches tall when readers first meet him as he is being scouted by Ben McMillan, the General Manager of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. McMillan recognizes Ricky’s potential as a forward and follows Ricky’s hockey progress over the next two years before making him the Colt’s first choice in the OHL Draft.
Prior to the Barrie Colts’ training camp, Ricky’s father, a former junior hockey player himself, appreciating that his 16-year-old son will be playing against 20-year-olds, teaches him how to fight. Ricky’s scoring skills, combined with his on-ice toughness, see him winning the league’s rookie-of-the-year award, and by the time he is 18, Ricky is ranked number two by Central Scouting and is drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
As Part Two of the novel’s four parts opens, two and a half years have elapsed, and Ricky, the Calder Trophy winner in his rookie NHL season, is the Sharks star player and is seen to be the key to the Sharks post-season play and Stanley Cup run. However, during a regular season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ricky, coming to the aid of his linemate Eric, becomes involved in a fight with Charlie Davidson, a Leafs defenceman, and Charlie dies, seemingly as the result of one of Ricky’s punches. Although Charlie’s death is ruled accidental [see excerpt above], the NHL suspends Ricky for the rest of the year. The following season finds Ricky’s play deteriorating sharply, and he is dropped from the first to the third line. During the thirty-first game of the season, the Sharks’ coach decides to play Ricky on the power play, but when Ricky is sucker punched by a New York Ranger player, Ricky experiences a psychotic episode on the ice and has to be hospitalized.
In Part Three, which begins four months after Ricky’s on-ice meltdown, Ricky is under the care of a psychiatrist. Though Ricky has largely accepted that Davidson’s death was not his fault, it takes him longer to acknowledge to himself and then to everyone else that he no longer wants to play hockey. While Ricky has sufficient money from his NHL salary that he never has to work again, the psychiatrist recommends that he get a regular job, and so Ricky becomes an insurance agent in Barrie. However, after a year working in Barrie, where he is still considered a celebrity, Ricky decides he must transfer to somewhere where he will be less likely to be known, and so Richard Phillips moves to Marathon, a small community of some 5,000 people three hours east of Thunder Bay. While Richard is soon “outed” as Ricky, the ex-NHLer, no one in Marathon intrudes on his privacy, and he eventually feels comfortable enough to first play pickup hockey and then to participate in a number of tournaments. Much to Ricky’s surprise, he finds that he is once again enjoying the game of hockey, and, with the urging of his former Barrie GM, the man who had drafted him into the OHL, Ricky, despite being out of the NHL for three years, decides to try to make a comeback,.
The book’s concluding, and shortest section, Part Four, focuses on Ricky’s training regimen to get physically ready for the Sharks’ training camp, the camp itself, and the events that follow, including Ricky’s being sent down to the minors before again being called up to The Show. A brief Epilogue deals with Ricky’s first game back in the NHL as the Sharks play the Red Wings in Detroit.
In many ways, The Hat Trick could pass as an adult novel as it “violates” so many norms of the YA novel. Both the book’s physical length and its time span are much longer than is usually the case in a novel for adolescents, especially one aimed at males. For most of the novel, the central character is an adult, rather than an adolescent, and the book’s many adult characters take centre stage much more frequently than normally occurs in YA novels. Nonetheless, Tom Earle, a teacher for the past 18 years, has written a most entertaining story, one in which he has even managed to include a bit of romance. Though Earle never made it to The Show, himself, his hockey resume includes playing for the Orillia Travelways, the Barrie Colts, Dartmouth College of the NCAA and the Whitley Bay Warriors of the British Ice League. Earle’s personal hockey knowledge truly shows through in the game portions of the book.
Older middle school boys who have read their way through the Lorimer and Orca hockey series books should be directed toward The Hat Trick along with high school boys who think that novels have nothing to offer them.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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