Roch Carrier is right: Real battles are won on the skating rink.
His beloved short story, The Hockey Sweater, serves as the springboard for a new book about another youngster who fears not fitting in with her teammates. But in this tale, a brand-new hockey jersey serves as a symbol of unity rather than division.
Written by Jael Richardson and published by the Bank of Nova Scotia BNS-T, The Hockey Jersey tells the story of a girl named Kareema who initially feels out of place in the change room. But when her coach arrives with new uniforms, it inspires camaraderie among a quintessentially Canadian cast of characters.
The children’s story is part of a broader initiative by Scotiabank to make the national sport more inclusive and accessible, including for females, new immigrants and people of colour. Its release certainly coincides with a critical moment for Canada’s game.
Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, is working to rebuild its credibility after being rocked by sexual-assault scandals, prompting a national reckoning about abuse in sport and exclusion on the ice.
When Scotiabank paused its sponsorship of Hockey Canada back in June of 2022, its chief executive officer Brian Porter publicly pledged the lender would do its part to create “positive change” in the sport.
No one is suggesting The Hockey Jersey is some kind of cure-all for what ails the game. But it is a step by a key corporate sponsor, one that has been involved with hockey since the 1970s, to dismantle cultural barriers in the sport.
Scotiabank, which has long billed itself as “Canada’s hockey bank,” deserves kudos for reading the mood of the nation and shifting its marketing dollars accordingly.
It’s the same kind of sponsorship savvy that Wendy’s Canada displayed when it gave its mascot grey hair to show support for broadcaster Lisa LaFlamme after she was ousted from the anchor’s chair at CTV News.
For its part, Scotiabank is also addressing an important void in children’s literature in a hockey-obsessed country. The bank came up with the concept for The Hockey Jersey after determining that only slightly more than 1 per cent of kids’ books about hockey feature a child of colour.
Given the changing face of Canadian society, is it any wonder then that minor hockey is facing an enrolment crisis? After all, hockey has no future if our national sport appeals only to young boys who look like Maurice Richard.
”We just thought if a child can’t see themselves on the pages, how are they going to see themselves belonging in the game?” said Scotiabank’s chief marketing officer Laura Curtis Ferrera.
Although the book’s title draws inspiration from The Hockey Sweater, it is not a rewrite of that classic story which was based on Mr. Carrier’s childhood experience in Sainte-Justine, Que.
(For those of you who aren’t familiar with his story, a young Mr. Carrier is aghast when the Eaton’s department store accidentally sends him a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead of one emblazing the logo of his cherished Montreal Canadiens. Wearing it makes him feel like a misfit on the ice and he prays for moths to devour his sweater. It’s a heartwarming yarn, to be sure. But it is also widely considered a parable about the cultural cleavage between French and English Canada.)
“There’s a really neat nod to our past,” Ms. Curtis Ferrera said. “We want to be creatively inspired by a classic children’s hockey book, but we wanted The Hockey Jersey to be very much its own book.”
It certainly is.
Ms. Richardson, the book’s author, says her story focuses on the change room in part because of the cover illustration on Mr. Carrier’s story. The hustle and bustle of a locker room is a familiar scene for parents, coaches and players alike.
“It’s the magic of a jersey and the way that putting on a jersey makes you feel together like a team,” Ms. Richardson said.
“For myself and [illustrator Chelsea Charles], as Black girls, we really just wanted to create a character that we hadn’t seen in picture books when we were growing up.”
The Hockey Jersey can be purchased from Indigo but is also available as a free e-book on the bank’s website. Net proceeds from sales are being donated to Hockey 4 Youth Foundation. The bank also plans to donate thousands of copies to public libraries and school boards.
Ms. Richardson said the book is a timely reminder of all the change that still needs to take place to create fair play on the ice.
“Women’s sports is a really great place to look for how to do things because it’s a group of people – from the coaching, to the admin, to all the people involved – who understand that they’re up against the odds and who do it anyway. And that’s a great model to follow.”