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“It’s in my DNA.”

April 19th, 2017

Hockey ain’t like it used to be back in the good ‘ol days when there were only six teams in the NHL, rivalries were fierce, Murray Westgate did the Esso commercials between periods, Foster Hewitt couldn’t pronounce the French players’ names properly and Bobbie Baun family played on a broken ankle.

Canada’a international superiority is gone. But the lure of the game is perpetuated by an onslaught of tv highlights and commercialism as McDavid replaces Gretzky, statistics abound, and the business of hockey is increasingly deemed newsworthy. Now, in synch with Canada’s 150th birthday, we’re apprised that the misnamed National Hockey League is marking its 100th anniversary.

Bobby Baun: victory as a painkiller

That’s as good a reason as any for Stephen Roxborough’s series of poems that collectively serve as a homage to the game, The DNA of the NHL (Ekstasis 2017). This volume “deconstructs and illuminates the Canadian national sport of hockey in an extraordinary merger of sports and art.” But perhaps you’d rather hear from literary critic Bobby Baun, the 17-year NHL player, three-time All-Star, four-time Stanley Cup winner, and author of his biography, Lowering The Boom. He body checks; he reads. While his more famous defence partner Tim Horton died in a car crash long ago, Bobby Baun is still around and he has praised The DNA of the NHL as “a quick and entertaining read. Stephen has the ability to use words to illustrate totally divergent meanings, in a way that makes one not only think, but often also smile.”

Roxborough’s family has always been deeply entrenched in the game. He writes:

“My grandfather’s electrical company wired Maple Leaf Gardens. My father was captain of his high school hockey team. My great uncle wrote the first book on the history of the Stanley Cup. My father always had a subscription to hockey news. My older brother received his monthly fix through hockey pictorial. Pre-cable pre-expansion pre-widespread hockey acceptance in North America, We listened to games on the radio. In 1968 my family moved to Vancouver and my brother got a job as a statistician with the WHL Canucks. Over the years my parents held season’s tickets for the Maple Leafs and Canucks and [Florida] Panthers. When I went to University in Madison in the early 70s, Bob Johnson was hockey coach and Wisconsin became the best collegiate team in the USA.”

The first NHL game Stephen Roxborough saw was this one: The Leafs’s triumph in 1964.

Stephen Roxborough first attended an NHL game in 1964 when he was fortunate to witness the seventh game of the 1964 Stanley Cup final. That was the game after Baun broke his ankle and refused medical attention in order to help his team hoist the Cup when the Leafs bested the Red Wings, 4-0.

Eventually Roxborough met his hockey hero, Mr. Hockey, in Las Vegas, a couple of years before Gordie Howe died. “Gordie was playful and gracious,” he recalls, “and especially nice to my son, Zachary.” Although Roxborough never played the game growing up in Vancouver, he’s been an ardent student of it since he was young. “It’s in my DNA,” he says. Hence the title.

BOOKS:

The DNA of the NHL (Ekstasis 2017)
978-1-77171-205-7 $23.95

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