Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the Summit Series between Canada and the U.S.S.R. and such anniversaries always provide impetus for books marking the occasion. One such work is Reaching the Summit: Reimagining the ’72 Summit Series in the Canadian Cultural Memory edited by Taylor McKee.
Reaching the Summit is no ordinary hockey retrospective. It is a scholarly, topical compendium of articles dealing with advanced sports analytics, personal memories, examinations of the Summit Series in sociological and psychological terms, avant-garde poetry, and even an alternate history scenario.
Kaitlyn Carter opens the proceedings with a unique essay where she examines the Summit Series as a metaphor for Canadian masculinity and how that masculinity (and its violent on-ice expressions during the Summit Series) defined (and still defines) Canada’s identity today and not just in terms of sports but also how Canada as a nation was founded. Carter adopts an even (and sometimes concerned) tone towards her subject and in many ways her essay must be seen as a cautionary tale when examining not just Canadian hockey history but also Canadian national history as well.
What scores for me in Reaching the Summit are the poetic works of Nathan Dueck and Brittany Reid. Dueck (in e.e. cummings style) who recaptures a moment in time with lower case confidence and industrial strength imagery (which I found quite refreshing). You sense the nostalgia and the boyhood vitality of experiencing something truly momentous in one’s youth. There is a Gretzky-like grace in Dueck’s words.
And yet Reid’s poem Forfeit is a Cri de Coeur, a revolution against memory, wonderfully insurgent and insolent in tone. Hell, hath no fury than the Canadian woman who is scorned for not wanting to remember or celebrate or bask in the nostalgic glow of Team Canada’s victory in 1972. Brittany Reid cuts through the Summit Series mythology with culinary sharpness and precision. Her poem shoots the puck through the back of the net with Rocket Richard-like fury.
But the biggest score of all comes from Brian Kennedy’s contribution to the book “Because “All We Are Is the Memory of Ourselves”. Kennedy creates wonderful atmospherics in his essay. The chapter reads like a slide presentation of memories Kennedy has kept in mental closet for the past 50 years. You can picture yourself sitting in a dark room with Brian as he presents his slides while chatting away gaily, telling you story after lovely story of every slide he shows you. It’s like a series of hockey haikus but each one captures moments in time; fragments of foment and fervor and fears; the emotions of anger, ecstasy, wistfulness, aspiration, and frustration pour forth; nostalgia, national pride are expressed with personal asides of the young man being a living witness not only to hockey history but also national history also.
It works on all levels, and it is by far the greatest chapter in the book and for that we the reader must say ‘thank you’.
Cedric Bolz’s examination of Summit Series referee Josef Kompalla is thoughtful in the way it portrays Kompalla’s career and what he did during the Summit Series and how the players, coaches, and team officials coped with (and overcame) the officiating during the European and Russian phases of the Summit Series. What Bolz reinforces is that the battles were not fought solely on the ice but also off the ice as well.
When reading Jean Lemoyne’s and Vladislav A. Bespomoshchnv’s article From Zone Entries to Expected Goals which uses hockey analytics to dissect the Summit Series, I was of two minds about it. While I respected the conclusions, they made based on the numbers they crunched I really did not care for the dense, turgid verbiage that was long on analytical nomenclature and short on entertaining prose.
Sadly, there are parts of the book that deserve to be sent to the penalty box. Of the four Personal Reflections contained inside only two (Brett Pardy’s and Catherine Garrett’s) were worthy while the other two were wastes of space and time. An even greater disappointment came at the very end with the epilogue dealing with the counterfactual what if scenario of a Soviet victory in 1972. When I first saw the What If? chapter in the table of contents, I was licking my lips in anticipation since I personally enjoy reading counter-factual historical scenarios very much. Instead, what I got was six rather puny paragraphs that utterly fail to scratch the surface of a compelling counter-factual scenario. A great, in-depth counter-factual examination of the Summit Series could have been written and it should be written one day but Mike Commito’s shot misses the net entirely.
Reaching the Summit is not your typical hockey book.
If you are an academic or an aesthete or an auto-didact then this book is for you.
If your hockey literary tastes focus more on the red meat of sports prose, then this book is not for you since it contains more white meat with fruits and vegetables on the side to provide a balanced diet for the intellectual palate.
It all depends on your intellectual scope.