As kids, we all had passions -- something we loved doing, experienced with our friends, dreamed about every spare moment. For Jay Atkinson, who grew up in a small Massachusetts town, it was hockey. When Bobby Orr scored the winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals against the St. Louis Blues, Atkinson became a fan for life. In 1975, he played on the first Methuen Rangers varsity hockey team. Once and always a rink rat, Atkinson still plays hockey whenever and wherever he can.
Twenty-five years after he played for the Rangers, Atkinson returns to his high school team as a volunteer assistant. Ice Time tells the team's story as he follows the temperamental star, the fiery but troubled winger, the lovesick goalie, the rookie whose father is battling cancer, and the "old school" coach as the Rangers make a desperate charge into the state tournament. In emotionally vivid detail, Ice Time travels into the rinks, schools, and living rooms of small-town America, where friendships are forged, the rewards of loyalty and perseverance are earned, and boys and girls are transformed into young men and women. Along the way, we also meet his five-year-old son, Liam, who is just now learning the game his father loves.
Whether describing kids playing a moonlit game on a frozen swamp or the crucible of team tryouts and predawn bus rides that he endured himself, Atkinson carves out the drama of adolescence with precision and affection. He takes us onto the ice and into the heart of a town and a team as he explores the profound connection between fathers and sons, and what it means to go home again.
Until now, The Game, by Hall of Fame goaltender and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Ken Dryden, pretty much stood alone in the annals of great hockey writing. Finally, stiff competition comes from New England author Atkinson, whose year-long study of the high school hockey squad from his alma mater is a bona-fide masterstroke. Cynics might cringe at the Rockwellian town Atkinson describes; certainly it does seem odd in this day and age to follow the antics of some 20 teenagers without one mention of pregnancy, drug abuse or violence. Yet that is precisely the lush and heartwarming portrait Atkinson paints of his hometown of Methuen, Mass., a blue-collar Catholic town split between French Canadians and Italians, where hockey is the common language and obsession. The focal point of Atkinson's book is the game itself, which the author sees as a force of empowerment, family values and community, and most importantly, joy. He strives to share this joy with his five-year old son, Liam, whose pure glee at playing the game and worship of the teenaged players of Methuen High is palpable. Atkinson vividly illustrates the mental and emotional impact the sport has on its players and offers lucid descriptions of game action. The themes of the book may seem quaint hard work, dedication, fairness, faith, camaraderie but that does not in any way lessen its impact.