WHEN WORD GOT OUT THAT ENGLISH INSTRUCTOR DOUG BEARDSLEY was introducing a new course this spring—“Hockey Literature and the Canadian Psyche”—the 40 seats in the class were quickly reserved, ESPN offered to fly him to New York for an interview, and e-mail arrived from hockey fans and academics from as far away as Texas and China.
“Because of the NHL lockout all of these people had vast, empty spaces to fill with no games going on,” says Beardsley, a wonderfully opinionated hockey nut. “They also think they can learn something about us as a nation by learning about the game, about the Canadian character. They’re right.”
Students in Beardsley’s class completed three research essays concentrating on the usual English studies terrain of imagery, symbolism or style, only in a hockey context. The reading list included classics like The Divine Ryans, by Wayne Johnston, The Good Body by Bill Gaston and Les Canadiens by Rick Salutin.
They’re the sort of books that get at the true meaning of being Canadian. By Beardsley’s definition, hockey represents a dark, Jungian counterbalance to the stereotype of the polite Canadian. “I think that along with this peace-sharing, gentle (image) comes a need for mayhem. So we invent this game and—whammo!—you get on the ice and it serves as a channel for those external energies that we don’t allow ourselves elsewhere.”
As for the sorry state of the professional game, Beardsley says the lost season “leaves an appalling abyss. I think we feel lost without the game. The reason the game needs to be played in winter is that it is a metaphor for how to survive winter. It’s our form of saying, look, even up here in the frozen north we can turn this around and make it work for us.
“I’m talking about something larger than what happens on the ice, and so is the course.”
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