CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 31. . . .April 15, 2011.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2011.
62 pp., pbk., $6.99.
Hockey players-Biography-Juvenile literature.
National Hockey League-biography-Juvenile literature.
Role models-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
While he was with senior Marlboros the team played in a tournament at the Stoney Indian Reserve in Alberta. When the people there heard about Armstrong’s Native heritage, they called him “Chief Shoots-the-Puck” and gave him a ceremonial headdress. The name stuck, and Armstrong was dubbed “Chief” by his teammates---not only for his heritage, but for his leadership qualities.
Hockey Trailblazers is a modest little book about five people who achieved what, at the time, was considered impossible. Willie O’Ree, George Armstrong, Manon Rheaume, Bobby Clarke and Larry Kwong all played hockey. All had a hurdle to overcome in order to play the game. These hurdles were medical, racial, and sexual, obstacles that most athletes never have to face and are now rarely seen in sports in Canada.
Willie O’Ree’s hurdle was racism. He was a black player in a white man’s game, and he faced the same problems Jackie Robinson did when he became a Brooklyn Dodger, the first black man to play in the big leagues. O’Ree was verbally insulted and spat upon. While the prejudice he faced was greatest in the United States where the colour bar was more deeply entrenched, it was also quite open and obnoxious in Canada.
George Armstrong, who captained the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and later coached the team, has native ancestry on his mother’s side. While racism does not appear to have been a serious hurdle he had to surmount, he is considered an aboriginal trailblazer, and other native players have since made their marks in professional hockey. One of the most popular players in the Leaf’s franchise, Armstrong had outstanding leadership qualities and captained the team for 11 years. Owner, Conn Smythe, considered Armstrong the best captain the Maple Leafs had ever had.
Manon Rheaume played one game for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. While she didn’t become an NHL player, she made history by being the first woman to get on the ice in the all-male league. While this certainly was unusual, she shouldn’t be considered a trailblazer in the same sense as Willie O’Ree. It is highly unlikely that more women will don NHL uniforms. The game is far too physical for any team to consider hiring female players.
Bobby Clarke, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers, was the first diabetic to be drafted by an NHL team. While a very serious illness, diabetes did not affect Clarke’s play as some sceptics believed it would. He easily overcame his hurdle. Those who remember watching him play know that he was one of the most physical and aggressive players on a very tough team.
While not a household name, Larry Kwong, who played one game for the New York Rangers in 1948, was a trailblazer like Willie O’Ree. While O’Ree is black, Kwong is Chinese and the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL. Racism, however, does not seem to have been a factor in his case. Other Asian players followed him because they excelled at the sport.
Nicole Mortillaro is an author of children’s literature and an Associate Editor at Scholastic Canada Ltd. Her titles include Snow and Ice: Canadian Winter Weather and Saturn. Her style is admirably suited to the target audience.
Hockey Trailblazers has five chapters ranging in length from 10 to 14 pages. Included in each chapter are brief inserts about other athletes who faced hurdles similar to the featured five. Mario Lemieux, for example, has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The book has an index and is illustrated with many photographs, both in colour and black and white, that are distributed throughout the book.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, Ontario.
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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.
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