One of my favorite writers on hockey is Jack Falla, a Massachusetts native who covered the NHL for Sports Illustrated in the 1980s and taught sports journalism at Boston University. Sadly, he passed away in 2008 at the all-too-young age of 64, but I almost feel that I've had the the opportunity to know him through his essay collections Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds and Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer.
Falla's short essays make the sport personal. They describe the many ways that hockey enriched, inspired and even, in certain ways, created him as a person.
"A Death in Montreal," the first essay in Open Ice, is a good example of this. Here, the death of hockey great Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 2000 unexpectedly connects Falla to a lost part of his childhood, allowing him to grieve, finally, for his mother, who had died forty-five years earlier, when Falla was eleven years old.
It's a beautifully constructed essay that somehow draws together, in twenty-seven simply but elegantly written pages, many seemingly disparate worlds. There's the world of Falla's childhood in 1950s Massachusetts: "I don't know why I wasn't told the truth [about my mother's ovarian cancer]. Maybe I wasn't supposed to know about ovaries." There's Maurice Richard: "more than a seething and driven scoring machine. He was the fleur-de-lis made flesh, a human flag for the simmering resentments of French Canadians." And then there's Falla's maternal grandmother schooling his Boston-bred, hockey-fan father: "It's Mohr-riss Ri-sharr, Nana said. I know. I'm French."
In the end, Falla's subtle prose links his belated tears of mourning on a Vermont interstate to Nana's exploding bottles of root beer some forty years earlier, illuminating the layered and entwined webs of meaning that our minds create out of elements widely scattered in time, place and context.