As the title of his latest book suggests, Grant Lawrence came about the game of hockey hesitantly. Photos in the book of a young bespectacled Lawrence, best known for his day job as the ebullient CBC Radio 3 host, suggest a meek child more accustomed to seeking the solace of cartoons instead of buddies who discover their inner men on a frozen bond.
Lawrence was always reluctant to join his peers on the ice for fear of “Buck,” a boy who bullied Lawrence consistently from a young age, and those of his ilk. The 42-year-old had always insisted the game celebrated bully culture and avoided it like the plague. Eventually however, Lawrence became seduced by what he dubs a “Canadian rite of passage” and began playing the game. He took up the goaltending position and eventually found himself forming the Vancouver Flying Vees, a beer league team largely comprised of those in the arts community. It is his evolution as not only a hockey player but also the clash of music and sports cultures, once vastly separated, that is examined in The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie.
In writing the book and examining this dichotomy, Lawrence came to better understand that while hockey is indeed incredibly intertwined with the Canadian national psyche, it might not be such a good thing.
“I discovered so many ironies,” he says dryly, reached on the phone at the Phog Lounge in Windsor, Ontario as he prepares for an evening reading.
“Canada generally prides itself on being a fairly laid-back, peaceful and polite nation. Those are three hallmarks of our culture. Yet, ironically, the game that is in our lifeblood is inherently a very violent game. At the underbelly of the game is the culture of bullying. Often the most coddled and championed child in a school might be the best hockey player.”
Those who have grown up in and around the game can understand Lawrence’s sentiments. He continues, asking questions of the game that make many of its biggest fans squeamish.
“But is that person the best person? Do they have empathy for their fellow students? Or are they the biggest douchebags, preying on those of least resistance and keen to stand on the shoulders of everyone else? And that’s something people don’t like to talk about when it comes to hockey in Canada.”
Lawrence figured the best way to experience the game was not with a random assortment of strangers driven to play out of a need to act out bullying tendencies, but with close friends who desired camaraderie of their peers.
“I formed the Flying Vees hockey team 10 years ago; it’s like a cross between Slapshot and The Commitments. I started asking musicians around the Vancouver scene and they came out of the woodwork,” he says.
“For whatever reason they were pushed away from hockey at an early age but still felt like there was a missing piece of the Canadian rite of passage. They’d never gotten to experience the game on their own terms.”
As Lawrence discovered, Canada’s game is not for the goons who prey on the weak. It is for those whose love of the game is so strong that previous poor experiences cannot dampen their passion.
“That’s probably the biggest takeaway from the book,” says Lawrence. “If you were spurned from something in your life you’re able to experience it on your own terms, without any fear.”
Grant Lawrence will be at the National Music Centre (Calgary) on December 9 for a reading of his book, The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. He will be accompanied by a musical performance by KJ Jansen (Chixdiggit).
By Joshua Kloke