The Game of Our Lives
Janet Money is a writer and policy analyst for the Canadian Cystic
Fibrosis Foundation in Toronto.
When Peter Gzowski’s 1981 hockey book was issued as a paperback in 1982, Gzowski seized his opportunity and added a chapter updating the volume, which follows the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers through the 1980-’81 season. The ‘81-’82 chapter, “The Year of the Kid,” can only maintain the book’s timeliness temporarily, but it was a good idea, since the Oilers’ and Wayne Gretzky’s performances in the latter season were even more surprising than in ‘80-’81.
The book’s concept is not new: sports journals, by players or writers, have become commonplace. But Gzowski does more than chronicle the events of a season. He attempts to show how a group of youngsters, enjoying “the game of their lives,” bear up over the rigours of the pro season. And, more interestingly, he attempts to put Wayne Gretzky into perspective, and to address the apparently unanswerable question, “Just how good is he?”
With brief chapters on earlier hockey greats like Joe Malone, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and others, Gzowski provides an historical perspective. But, as he acknowledges, the game played in the NHL has changed, making comparisons risky.
But the game at its fundamental level is the same. Gzowski shows us the sheer joy of hockey, in glimpses of “road hockey” in the halls of Maple Leaf Gardens, and of a shinny game in Edmonton involving Oilers players, the coach’s sons, owner Peter Pocklington, and even Gzowski himself.
If the book borders on cheerleading and the Gretzky portions seem a trifle worshipful, we can forgive Gzowski. Over eight months with the Oilers, he couldn’t help but become a fan. The accounts of the people in and around the team and the league are superb. If Gzowski has a technical weakness, it is his description of game action. But it isn’t easy to describe the fastest team sport there is.
As a hockey journal, The Game of Our Lives is exceptional. As an answer to the Gretzky question, it is problematic.