Major junior leagues are playing, the pre-season NCAA Division I college poll is out and the National Hockey League (and my local favorite, the USHL) begin regular season play this week. That means hockey fans need to complete their tune-up for another year of hockey. How about a quick trip across the breadth of North America for a view of the state of hockey?
That's what Bill Boyd provides in All Roads Lead to Hockey. Boyd, a Canadian reporter who has covered the Olympic Games and world hockey championships, takes the reader from northern Canada to the Texas-Mexico border to show how the game has spread across the continent.
Boyd does not look at NHL teams except to the extent some of those interviewed played or coached in the NHL or aspire to do so. Instead, the odyssey he embarks upon is one devoted to amateur, junior, college and minor league hockey. He takes us to seven North American locations in this adventure, devoting a chapter to each. Two chapters in particular stand out — Boyd's examination of hockey on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation reservation in Manitoba and in Laredo, Texas.
The former looks at the OCN Blizzard, a junior hockey team owned by the Indian nation. While six of the 20 team members at the time of Boyd's visits are First Nations (the Canadian term for indigenous peoples) members, that is not a prerequisite. Rather, the Blizzard recruit from across Canada and even into the U.S. But Boyd doesn't just look at hockey for hockey's sake. His interviews explore how the team has helped improve race relations. He also touches on some of the problems often endemic to reservations. Here, it is the suicides of two native players. One in 2001 one occurred when the player failed to make the Blizzard roster. The other was Terence Tootoo, the first Inuit to play professional hockey, who committed suicide following a drunk driving arrest just two months after signing with a team in the minor league East Coast Hockey League.
The latter chapter takes us to the U.S.-Mexico border in mid-February to look at the Laredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League. Adding to the incongruity of a Texas hockey team is the fact that, with two exceptions, every member of the team is Canadian. The two exceptions? A Swede and an Israeli. But that doesn't mean hockey is a rarity in Texas. In fact, Texas has more professional hockey teams (12) than any other U.S. state or Canadian province.