I grew up in Rossland, British Columbia, playing hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer, and at a young age enjoyed both sports equally. As I grew older, I began to lean toward playing more soccer, both because I was better at it and because it sparked images in my mind of wild cheering crowds in the far-off stadiums of exotic places like Sheffield and Bilbao and Mönchengladbach, which intrigued me more than what was close and local and familiar.
But I have never stopped loving hockey, Canada’s favourite sport. Ever since leaving my home country to travel the world, I have kept tabs on how badly the Canucks (my favourite NHL team) are losing. And whenever the Canadian national team is playing in the Olympics, I make sure to get to the nearest TV screen, even if the puck drops at 3:00 in the morning.
Because I still play soccer, but stopped playing hockey competitively at 17, writing Bench Brawl involved a fascinating journey back through some of my most vivid childhood memories. Driving home from a tournament in Osoyoos with my mother and sister through a raging blizzard. Sitting in the ancient pine penalty box in Castlegar after taking my first cross-checking penalty. Trudging through the snow to the Rossland Arena as a 7-year-old, fully dressed (including skates and skate-guards) because the family car wouldn’t start.
Certain memories have appeared in some form in Bench Brawl. The trip to Vancouver in the novel is actually an amalgam of two trips I took at two different stages of my childhood. The first trip, when I was 8, gave my Novice team a chance to play during the first intermission of a Canucks-Kings NHL game. Check the photos below for the terrifying neon-pink team caps that we wore on the bus. The second was the Bantam B Provincial Championships, which the team entered when I was 16. Our team arrived unranked but ended up steamrolling everyone en route to the final, where we unfortunately ran out of steam and lost something like 10-2 to North Delta. I scored my team’s second goal in that game, with my whole family watching. It was the one goal I scored in the tournament and I’m still pretty sure that it only went in because the Delta goalie had fallen asleep!
Another memory- less distinct perhaps, but nonetheless vivid – involves hours and hours out on the street, slapping mouldy old tennis balls at a wobbly metal net with my brother and my friends. As much as I enjoyed “real” hockey, something about those pickup games remains in my mind, and so they too make an appearance in Bench Brawl, as they did in Breakaway, when Adam and his younger brother Jonah “take shots” in their driveway (Jonah, like my younger brother, is required to wear a blue helmet, with face-mask, as pictured below).
I sincerely hope that Bench Brawl will be a story that young hockey players and readers can thoroughly enjoy, and that it will inspire them to tell their own sports stories, now and in the future.