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Book Review: The Hockey Saint

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A look at the graphic novel by Howard Shapiro.

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First off, I would like to point out that I first heard about this book a few months back on Arctic Ice Hockey where HappyCaraT discussed some of the central messages in the book, alcohol and professional athletes and what really happens when you meet your hero.  It's an excellent review that highlights one of my favorite aspects of the book, and while I encourage you to read it as well, I also don't really want to focus solely on that aspect since I'm not really sure if I can add much -- there will be some crossover though.

For some quick background information The Hockey Saint is a graphic novel written by Howard Shapiro, illustrated by Marica Inoue, and colored by Neil Googe about a sophomore in college named Tom who ends up meeting his hockey hero Jeremiah Jacobson. This is the second book in a series called the "Forever Friend's" trilogy and is the sequel to  the book "The Stereotypical Freaks," which I have not read.

The Hockey Saint is about a young college kid named Tom, who is going through a tough time after losing his parents, that befriends a popular, though polarizing, professional hockey player, Jeremy Jacobson, who is struggling with his own problems.  Jacobson is a chain smoking alcoholic, who despite volunteering in secret for numerous organizations around town and being on a professional hockey team, doesn't really seem to have any real friends.

The character of Jacobson and his interactions with Tom really make this story.  Tom is the audience surrogate, and probably how many of us would react if we met our hockey hero who in turn invited us to hang out with him, although I would probably be joining him in the drinking unlike Tom.  There are a few moments where you can see that Tom is neglecting his friends, school, and responsibilities to his team to be with his new friend, and although that is probably not the best thing to do with an alcoholic, it is very realistic that a person would do the same if put in that situation.

Jacobson as a character doesn't really have a very clear a backstory.  He apparently started drinking at a very young age and had some trouble with the media in his first year as a professional, but that never really feels like the full story.  If he was just a professional athlete who drank a lot or partied to help deal with the pressure of being a star athlete that would be one thing, we see athletes who are known for partying all the time in real life.

Jacobson's character has a deeper sadness that you don't really expect from a professional athlete.  He drinks alone at home for one, most of us imagine athletes partying with teammates or at clubs, and though he volunteers with various charities and seems to be able to connect with people, he doesn't seem to have any real friends, save one person.  This seems to explain how he befriends a stranger who he finds outside his house one night -- he seems to be just looking to connect with someone, especially someone who also appears to be going through a difficult time in his life.  Though you never get the full story of how the character came to be, you do get a satisfying conclusion and a good idea of what he is going to be like in the future.

As much as I liked this The Hockey Saint there were a few aspects of the story that I didn't think worked as well.  The character of Mr. Jones, a powerful businessman who owns the rival hockey team that hires a PI to dig up information on Jeremiah Jacobson, seemed unnecessary.  While the PI ultimately lead to the ultimate resolution, that aspect of the plot he also didn't add much for me.

A few quick notes:

  • The characters in the story play a game called "Battle of Montreal" on the "Nakatomi Video Game System."  When they show the game it appears to be Ice Hockey on the Famicom, the Japanese NES, which is a cool reference although Blades of Steel is the superior 8-Bit hockey experience

  • At one point Jacobson drinks something called Nuclear Waste, which is apparently vodka with orange Fanta and cranberry juice. This is apparently a real drink, although most recipes I saw do not include the cranberry juice, that Keith Richards reportedly drinks.

  • Going along with my remarks about the PI not fitting in, at one point Mr. Jones says he broke a man's jaw in two places.  When I first read that I thought he was hiring him to wound Jacobson not dig up dirt on him.

  • The book is broken up into fifteen chapters, each of which comes with a different music suggestion for bands like The Pixies or Bob Dylan.  I've never seen this in a graphic novel before and it definitely gives it a very cinematic feel when you are reading it.

You can purchase a digital or paper copy here.

Five for Howling was provided a reviewer copy of the print edition by the author.