Fa­ther Bauer and the Great Ex­per­i­ment: The Ge­n­e­sis of Cana­dian Olympic Hockey

Canada's History - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ryan O’Con­nor, a writer, a his­tor­i­cal con­sul­tant, and the au­thor of the J.J. Tal­man Award-win­ning The First Green Wave: Pol­lu­tion Probe and the Ori­gins of En­vi­ron­men­tal Ac­tivism in On­tario (UBC Press).

by Greg Oliver

ECW Press, 320 pages, $32.95

Greg Oliver’s Fa­ther Bauer and the Great Ex­per­i­ment tells two in­ter­twined sto­ries. On one hand, it is a bi­og­ra­phy of Hockey Hall of Fame mem­ber Fa­ther David Bauer. Born in Kitchener, On­tario, in 1929, Bauer was a noted hockey tal­ent in his younger days but turned down the op­por­tu­nity to play pro­fes­sion­ally in or­der to join the priest­hood. His older brother Bobby, also a mem­ber of the Hockey Hall of Fame, starred as a part of the Bos­ton Bru­ins’ “Kraut Line.”

While join­ing the clergy brought his play­ing days to an end, David Bauer turned his at­ten­tion to coach­ing and men­tor­ing stu­dent ath­letes at his alma mater, St. Michael’s Col­lege School in Toronto. Noted for his em­pha­sis on bal­anc­ing ath­let­ics with stu­dent play­ers’ scholas­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he led the team to a Memo­rial Cup vic­tory in 1961. The team was a ver­i­ta­ble ju­nior hockey pow­er­house but was dis­banded the fol­low­ing year, when it be­came ap­par­ent that league de­mands would make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for play­ers to main­tain the nec­es­sary bal­ance.

In 1962 Bauer trans­ferred to St. Mark’s Col­lege, a the­o­log­i­cal school af­fil­i­ated with the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in Van­cou­ver. This is where the sec­ond com­po­nent of the book emerges, as it picks up the story of the cre­ation of Canada’s na­tional hockey team. As it stood, Canada’s en­tries in the an­nual world cham­pi­onships and the qua­dren­nial Win­ter Olympics were the de­fend­ing Al­lan Cup cham­pi­ons — re­cip­i­ents of the prize awarded to the coun­try’s top se­nior hockey club. With these am­a­teur teams strug­gling against the rapidly im­prov­ing en­tries from Europe, which of­ten fea­tured pro­fes­sional play­ers, Bauer con­cluded that it would be in Canada’s best in­ter­ests to cre­ate a na­tional team that would train year- round and rep­re­sent the coun­try at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. This idea was ac­cepted by the gov­ern­ing Cana­dian Am­a­teur Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion, and in 1962 Bauer was given the Her­culean task of as­sem­bling and run­ning the team.

Here the book’s fo­cus shifts to the many play­ers who joined the na­tional pro­gram over the next eigh­teen years. They were, in many re­spects, a rag­tag group, made up of col­le­giate ath­letes, prospects who val­ued spend­ing time play­ing for their coun­try be­fore turn­ing pro, and oc­ca­sional last-minute call-ups who would help the team out of a jam. Oliver writes in an en­gag­ing fash­ion, and his book fea­tures the voices of many of the na­tional team’s former mem­bers. These in­clude Ken Dry­den, who suited up for two games fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of his col­le­giate ca­reer, be­fore go­ing on to great suc­cess in the Na­tional Hockey League.

Be­fore Bauer’s death in 1988, he made it clear that he didn’t want to be posthu­mously li­on­ized. Oliver nonethe­less pro­vides an in­ter­est­ing glimpse into the life of one of Canada’s re­mark­able, if over­looked, hockey fig­ures. At the same time, his book is great for fans of in­ter­na­tional hockey — not only be­cause it tells the ori­gin story of the na­tional team but also be­cause it high­lights the of­ten-con­temp­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween Euro­pean mem­bers of the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing the group’s long-time pres­i­dent John “Bunny” Ahearne, and Cana­dian of­fi­cials.

Hockey, for bet­ter or worse, is in a very dif­fer­ent po­si­tion than it was in the early 1960s. The NHL has grown tre-

men­dously from a league of six teams, and to­day’s teams ice line­ups with not only Cana­dian- and Amer­i­can- born play­ers but also a broad com­ple­ment of Euro­peans. In­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments typ­i­cally fea­ture best-ver­sus-best line­ups com­prised en­tirely of pro­fes­sion­als. As Fa­ther Bauer and the Great Ex­per­i­ment re­minds us, these are fairly re­cent in­no­va­tions. Oliver’s book lets us learn about yes­ter­year, when the Maple Leaf was proudly worn by amateurs whose love of sport and coun­try was matched only by the Basil­ian Fa­ther be­hind the bench.

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