When hockey players are discussed they are often saints or sinners. Somehow there is no in-between. And yet, as we know, nothing is black and white, in life or on the ice. Perhaps that is where Howard Shapiro came up with the title of his graphic novel about a professional hockey player who, in public ,appears to be a sinner, but in actuality is closer to a saint; though he struggles with some inner demons. He befriends a young hockey player who idolizes him and the story shows how both men grow through their relationship.
The story opens with young Tom Leonard, a college sophomore, dreaming about his deceased parents. He now lives with his grandmother. He’s a fourth liner for his college team and the coach offers him an incredible opportunity—a partial scholarship and an A for his jersey. Tom promises not to let the coach down. However, Tom is clearly struggling with the death of his parents—lost and looking for some guidance.
Enter Jeremiah Jacobson, a professional hockey player who has put up impressive points on the ice, but is accused, by one commentator, as having “zero character. He’s not a team guy and he has no heart.” Harsh words to say about anyone, and considering that most hockey players are the exact opposite of this, made for an interesting introduction to him.
Tom learns where he lives and goes there one night. While putting out the trash, Jacobson finds Tom sitting outside of his house. Jacobson is smoking, carrying a beer and wearing his bathrobe as he takes out the trash. Not the type of meeting one would expect, and certainly not the image that most conjure up when thinking about their idols—and we have all had idols. Perhaps a little unlikely, Jacobson invites Tom in to his house for a chat. I couldn’t help feeling that this would likely not happen in today’s world, but perhaps was the only way the author felt that the two could begin their interactions.
The rest of The Hockey Saint looks at the friendship that develops between Tom and Jacobson. And while we see Jacobson mentoring Tom in many ways and Tom trying to help Jacobson in return, it takes its toll on Tom’s hockey and studies at college. This was the one area that I felt seemed somewhat out of character with Tom as he was introduced to us. He seemed to be working hard at getting his life in order and then this was somehow abandoned as Tom spends time with Jacobson. However, I suppose that if given the opportunity to hang out with your idol or do school work, the idol would win out.
Like any good story there are some unexpected twists and turns and one thing that I was surprised to find was my own two worlds coming together in Shapiro’s graphic novel: genealogy (family history)—my profession—and hockey. In fact when Tom’s grandmother talks about genealogy she mentions having taken a course through Boston University. I almost dropped my iPad when I read that, as I was very familiar with the course and was surprised to see this in the story, though it made me smile. I had to ask the author about how he had come to include this in his book.
“I wish there was some great backstory here but the way I came up with the Boston University certificate program is that I simply googled ‘online genealogy degree program’ and Boston U’s program was one of the first hits,” Shapiro responded. “Just to expand a bit though, I did want his grandmother to play more than just a background role in the story or to be just a one dimensional character. That goes for all of the characters I write, but one thing I really wanted to do with The Hockey Saint was to have a few strong female characters.”
Going further into his discussion of the female characters in The Hockey Saint he did say that he named Tom’s grandmother, Sophie, after his own grandmother. Genealogy in use, you could say. And grandmother Sophie’s genealogical knowledge is put to good use in the story, though I won’t say how as it would reveal too much.
Overall this is a fun story and delves into the demons that both Tom and Jeremiah are trying to overcome. If I had anything that I wish hadn’t been so prevalent it would be the smoking that Jacobson does. Graphic novels appeal to young people and though I am not naïve enough to think that they aren’t smoking, every time it is made to look cool, it just helps encourage that attitude. Of course that could be the mother in me.
The graphics are good and the story shows that idols can fall off the pedestals on which we insist putting them, because no one is perfect. And in the end, perhaps not being perfect but instead being real is actually better.
If you enjoy graphic novels, you will want to check this one out. You don’t have to know about hockey to enjoy it. And if you are trying to get your son or daughter to read more and they are into hockey then you may want to get this for them as they will identify with Tom’s idol worship and may learn how to accept the “real” person behind their hockey favorite.