Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, opens with the autopsy report of hockey great Terry Sawchuk.
It ends with a photo of his face, a jigsaw of quick stitches.
In between, author Randall Maggs creates a biography of poems that takes readers on the roller coaster ride that was the life of the greatest goalie of the original six National Hockey League teams.
In an era when upper body protection wasn’t much more that the team sweater and owners were united that “no goalie … will ever wear a face mask,” Sawchuk, the King of the Shutout, defended the net with his life until his sudden death in a post-game scuffle with Rangers player Ron Stewart.
The Globe and Mail lauds Night Work as the truest hockey book ever written.
Maggs, who played minor hockey in Winnipeg, was fascinated by the legend of Sawchuk and the story of the athlete’s damaged life: “There’s just something about the guy’s name that says ‘hockey’, hockey back in that period,” Maggs told the Poetry Foundation upon the 2008 release of Night Work.
Night Work took 10 years to write. Maggs collected mountains of information from players, referees and coaches, but it wasn’t until he obtained Sawchuk’s autopsy report that he found the book’s structure.
“The passage on the scars on his face, even more, the language that conveyed that information, jumped out at me,” he said. “I saw how I wanted to use that as a preface and then tell the human story behind that cold clinical report, making use of all of the different voices.”
At the core of Night Work is a story that referee Red Storey told Maggs: Sawchuk had cursed out the Hall of Fame referee and then didn’t remember having done it.
“That story’s exactly what he told me,” said Maggs, adding that while the memory bothered Storey, even late in life, it focuses Sawchuck’s complex nature.
The life-on-the-road and heat-of-play elements were provided by Maggs’ brother, Darryl, former defender for Chicago and Toronto.
The book begins with a linear structure that outlines Sawchuk’s childhood and the death, at 17, of his oldest brother, also an aspiring goalie.
After the poem, A Clever Dog, readers will notice the poems become less orderly, “which reflects what happened in Terry’s own life as a result of [Detroit Red Wings owner] Jack Adams’s handling of him,” said Maggs.
Poems are then grouped with little regard for “any orderly historical unfolding of time,” said Maggs, but high regard for the character of a man with a broken spirit.
Maggs has written such a close, personal biography that readers hear Sawchuk wrestle with his demons. They feel the pain, psychic and physical, that scarred him over 21 seasons in the net.
The Whitehorse Poetry Society invites fans of hockey, poetry and storytelling to join Randall Maggs for a reading at 7 p.m. at Baked Café on Monday, March 29. Maggs will also speak on craft at Whitehorse Public Library at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30.