The Hockey Sweater
The cover of The Hockey Sweater
|Directed by||Sheldon Cohen|
|Produced by||Marrin Canell
Derek Lamb (executive producer)
|Written by||Roch Carrier (story)
Sheila Fischman (English text)
|Starring||Roch Carrier (voice)
Jean-Guy Moreau (voice)
|Music by||Normand Roger|
|Editing by||David Verrall|
|Distributed by||National Film Board|
|Running time||10 mins. 21 secs.|
The Hockey Sweater (Le chandail de hockey in the original French) is a short story by Canadian author Roch Carrier and translated to English by Sheila Fischman. It was originally published in 1979 under the title "Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace" ("An abominable maple leaf on the ice") and was adapted into an animated short called The Sweater (Le Chandail) by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1980 and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen.
The story is based on a real experience Carrier had growing up in Sainte-Justine, Quebec in 1946 as a fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and its star player, Maurice Richard. Carrier and his friends all wore Canadiens' sweaters with Richard's number 9 on their back. When he needed a replacement, he was mistakenly sent a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead. Forced to wear it by his mother, Carrier faced the persecution of his peers and was prevented from playing by his coach.
The Hockey Sweater is Carrier's most famous work and is considered an iconic work of Canadian literature. The story has sold over 250,000 copies and has been republished in numerous anthologies. It exemplifies the nation's passion for hockey, and while it is considered an allegory of the relationship and tensions that exist between francophones and anglophones, the story is popular throughout the entire nation. A line from the story appears on the Canadian five-dollar bill.
In the aftermath of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, tensions between francophones within the province and anglophones escalated as a provincial movement, led by the governing Parti Québécois, to separate from Canada reached its peak in the late 1970s. Seeking to explain Quebec's independence movement, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)'s Toronto affiliate asked Roch Carrier, whose debut novel La Guerre, Yes Sir had been popular among both French and English Canadians, to explain "what does Quebec want?"
Carrier spent several weeks trying to answer the question, ultimately producing what he described as a "flat essay" that was "dull as an editorial in a newspaper". Three days before his deadline, Carrier informed the CBC that he would not be able to complete the project. He was told that the network had already booked studio time for him and had been promoting his appearance. Still unwilling to present his essay, Carrier was then asked to write about anything he wanted to fill the time.
Considering what to write, Carrier thought of his own childhood. He stated in an interview that he began thinking of "when was it that I felt I was really myself? And I remember it was when I put on my skates and my Eaton catalogues on my legs, and I stood up, and I was taller than my mom, and I had a stick in my hands, so I was stronger than my brother, and I felt that I was little me. So I started to write about that and it turned into the Hockey Sweater story."
The Hockey Sweater is based on a real experience Carrier experienced growing up in his home town of Sainte-Justine, Quebec, in 1946. The story discusses the obsession he and his friends had with the Montreal Canadiens' organization and their star player, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. He spoke of how they all emulated Richard's style and mannerisms, and on the ice "we were five Maurice Richards against five other Maurice Richards, throwing themselves on the puck. We were ten players all wearing the uniform of the Montréal Canadiens, all with the same burning enthusiasm. We all wore the famous number 9 on our backs."
His old sweater having worn out, Carrier's mother sought to replace it. As a French-only speaker, she wrote a letter to Eaton's, trying to order him a new sweater from their English-only Catalogue. When the package arrived, the young Carrier was horrified to discover he was sent a sweater of the rival Toronto Maple Leafs by mistake. He argued with his mother, who refused to return the sweater for fear that doing so would offend "Monsieur Eaton", an English-speaking fan of Toronto.
Humiliated, Carrier was forced to wear the sweater to the rink where each of his peers comes to stare at him in his blue sweater. His team's coach removed him from his usual forward position, holding him back as a reserve on defence. By the third period, he still had not played in the game when one of his team's defencemen was bloodied after being struck in the nose by a stick. Believing his chance had finally come, Carrier jumped onto the ice, only to be given an immediate penalty for by the parish priest acting as the referee. The priest claimed that there were already five players on the ice and that his substitution was thus illegal. A frustrated Carrier smashed his stick on the ice, and was then scolded by the priest: "just because you're wearing a new Toronto Maple Leafs sweater unlike the others, it doesn't mean you're going to make the laws around here."
The priest then sent Carrier to the church to pray for forgiveness. Instead, he asked God to "send me, right away, a hundred million moths that would eat my Toronto Maple Leafs sweater."
Carrier's story, originally written in French, was published in 1979 under the title "Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace" ("An abominable maple leaf on the ice") in a collection of his works called Les Enfants du bonhomme dans la lune. It was translated to English that same year by Sheila Fischman and published as part of an English collection of Carrier's works called The Hockey Sweater and other stories. It has subsequently been republished in numerous anthologies of Canadian or hockey literature.
One year later, the National Film Board of Canada adapted the story into a ten minute animated short film called The Sweater. Carrier voiced the story that was animated by Sheldon Cohen. The film became one of the National Film Board's most popular works and has won numerous awards. It was named the Best Animated Film at the 1981 British Academy Film Awards.
Cohen approached May Cutler, founder of Tundra Books, in 1982 to create an illustrated children's book of the story. It was published two years later as The Hockey Sweater, and has gone on to sell over 250,000 copies. Following the success of the book, Cutler asked Carrier to write three additional stories of his childhood, illustrated by Cohen, each covering a different sport in a different season. They were published as The Boxing Champion (1991), The Longest Home Run (1994) and The Basketball Player (1996).
The passion Carrier and his frends had for the game of hockey, particularly for the Montreal Canadiens, is the dominant theme of the story. In introducing the film for his video anthology Leonard Maltin's Animation Favorites from the National Film Board of Canada, American critic Leonard Maltin noted that hockey is "an obsession, a country-wide preoccupation that dominates many lives", particularly those of children. He argued that The Sweater is one of the National Film Board's best animated works that combined humour with cultural significance. In the story, Carrier noted that the children spent their time at school, the church and the rink, "but our real life was on the skating rink."
Of particular emphasis was the children's fascination with Maurice Richard. Montreal's star player from 1942 until 1960, Richard was a prolific goal scorer. In the 1944–45 season – one year before the events of The Hockey Sweater – Richard became the first player in National Hockey League history to score 50 goals in a 50-game season. Sheldon Posen, curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, noted during the opening of an exhibit dedicated to Richard in 2004 that he had long been an idol in Quebec, but it was Carrier's story that expanded Richard's reputation in English Canada and sealed his place as a pan-Canadian hero. Jason Blake, a professor of English at the University of Ljubljana, argued the irony of this in his book Canadian Hockey Literature. He stated that many francophones viewed Richard as a "hero of the people, an athletic freedom fighter against the rest of Canada.
Cultural impact 
The Hockey Sweater has achieved an iconic place in Canadian literature. It is the defining work of Carrier's career, and while he has lamented the fact that it has so overshadowed his other works, Carrier appreciates what its popularity has given him: "There is almost not one day in my life that there is not something nice that happens because of the story."
The cultural impact of the story is such that the Bank of Canada placed a line from the story on the reverse of the 2001 series five-dollar bill as an illustration of the place hockey holds in the Canadian psyche. Carrier is the first author to be quoted on a Canadian banknote. The line, appearing in both French and English is: « Nous vivions en trois lieux : l’école, l’église et la patinoire; mais la vraie vie était sur la patinoire. » / "We lived in three places - the school, the church and the skating rink - but our real life was on the skating rink." It is accompanied by scenes of children playing outdoors in the winter, centred by one in a Montreal Canadiens' sweater with Maurice Richard's number 9 on their back.
The illustrated book of The Hockey Sweater was among the children's books included as official Canadian gifts presented to the Prince of Wales and his family during an official visit in 1991, for his then nine-year-old son William. Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, as part of a personal tradition of honouring others, brought a copy of the story to space when he travelled to the International Space Station in 2009, later presenting the copy to Carrier. Of the story, Thirsk said: "It represents part of Canadian literacy, it represents support of reading and I just wanted to say thank you to Mr. Carrier." The story has also been set to music as part of a piece commissioned by the Toronto Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic and National Arts Centre Orchestras in 2012.
As an indication of its importance to Canadian popular culture, a short animated parody called "The Lockout Sweater" (a reference to the 2012 NHL lockout) was broadcast on CBC Television's This Hour has 22 Minutes on December 11, 2012. In this parody the protagonist idolizes Sidney Crosby in place of Maurice Richard, receives a suit jacket with 'Bettman' on the back (in reference to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) in place of a Hockey sweater, fails to negotiate with the players at the local rink, locks them out and prays for "hundreds of millions of dollars" so he can be an owner and end the lockout.
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