Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
Sports aficionados, Andrew Caddell, Dave Stubbs and the late Philip Caddell, have crafted a delightful collection of ten short stories on Canada's national sport. And according to the authors, all are true. That may well be, but the skillful prose of these writers intimates at times a tinge of nostalgic skating around the real events, putting The Goal on par with the best of Canadian hockey story-telling, both fiction and non-fiction.
Andrew Caddell leads off with the book's namesake contribution. In "The Goal," nine-year- old Andrew, not a naturally gifted skater, is assigned to guard the net. But secretly he practices non-stop to earn the privilege of playing briefly as a forward. And when his coach finally gives Andrew his chance, the young boy surprises everyone by scoring a goal. This simple plot infuses the reader with the sense of joy that lasts through the rest of the book.
In the next story, "The Playoff," two years have past, and Andrew is still a goalie, but now by choice. His mastery of “eating rubber” has enabled his team to make it to the playoffs. His teammates dream of winning, and wearing the much coveted championship crests on their windbreakers. But this depends on the young goalie's continued ability to thwart every break-away shot—and there are many. We won't spoil the outcome here, but rest assured you can feel the kids' excitement and apprehension in the second overtime period of the play-off game as the ice begins to melt under the noon sun, and the match risks being called as a draw.
Dave Stubbs' three contributions leave no doubt as to why he has become an icon of hockey journalism in Canada. The most moving of his stories is "The Kid." In it, he recounts how a young Jack Caddell, Andrew's son, is saddened that Canadiens captain Saku Koivu is strickened with cancer. His father promises Jack that for every hockey goal he scores in the season, he will give $5 to cancer research. Jack prays for Koivu and sets out to raise as much money as he can. Slapstick after slapstick, Jack racks up $200 in goals. Jack and his dad drive to Montreal to deliver the contribution to the Cancer Research Society and to meet Saku Koivu, who has miraculousy recovered. Saiku offers Jack one of his hockey sticks, and Jack insists on trading him his own much shorter stick. As they part, Jack proudly says, “And I scored 29 goals with that stick. You can use it if you want.” Being inspired, persevering, setting goals and being generous—indeed The Kid offers some simple but valuable lessons to young and older readers.
"The Black Horse," Philip Caddell's contribution, magically takes the reader back to a simpler time. It is 1935 and Philip Caddell is a young clerk at the famous Dawes brewery. The Dawes family is the main sponsor of the championship-winning Montreal Maroons, and the brewery's black Percheron workhorse is its logo. Norman Dawes, the brewery owner's nephew and vice-president, gets suckered into a bet with the Maroons' team captain, Reginald “Hooley” Smith. If the Maroons can make a come-back and win the Stanley Cup, Norman will give Smith one of the brewery's black Percherons. When the Maroons beat the odds and win, Norman faces a dilemma—how to explain to his uncle that he has gambled away one of the highly prized Percherons. So he entrusts young Philip Caddell with producing a “black horse by other means.” It is pure pleasure to sit back and imagine the fireside re-telling of these shenanigans by Philip Caddell, an immigrant from Scotland who, although he never learned to play hockey himself, became the game's most ardent supporter.
There is a timeless charm to the stories of The Goal. They bridge the old-timer's longing for past glory with the rookie's discovery of Canada's greatest game. They also revive the Montreal of simpler times when the love of hockey was the city's great integrator of the city's linguistic and cultural communities, and tuning in to the voice of CBC's Danny Galllivan narrating the Montreal Canadiens matches drowned out the stress and worries of everyday life.
Andrew Caddell is a seasoned journalist turned senior policy analyst, who grew up in Montreal West and whiled away his summers and Christmases in Kamouraska, Quebec. Dave Stubbs is the sports features columnist of the Montreal Gazette. The late Philip Caddell, Andrew Caddell's father, was a master oral storyteller of hockey lore, and an inspiration to the writing of both his son and friend Dave. His favourite oral story, "The Black Horse," was written posthumously for the collection by the other authors.
The Goal: Stories about our National Passion is published by Deux Voiliers Publishing.