Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Last Season

A strange mixture of hockey and the supernatural featuring NHL enforcer Felix Batterinski, better known as Frankenstein (opposing fans), Monster (his grandmother), and Bats (his friends). He uses stick, fists, and cheap shots to intimidate opponents, and lovingly describes the way he knocked Bobby Orr out of a game -- after Orr had scored on a breakaway.

He wins two Stanley Cups with the Broad Street Bullies, then is traded to the LA Kings who offer him a sweet contract. He thinks he's set for life until he discovers that his agent has bilked him of almost everything. He ends up as a player-coach for a semi-pro team in Finland. The reason they're in last place? "They all have their teeth. All of them, all their teeth."

When spit on by a fan during an exhibition game in Sweden, he climbs out of the penalty box and chases the fan all the way out of the arena. Then, celebrating their win after the game in a hotel bar, one of his teammates "hoots in derision" when he pours himself a small drink.

I hold up my hand, silently calling for patience. My mood is strange and I am not quite certain what it is that's making me do this, but instead of going for more alcohol to prove the point, I suddenly find myself pulling at my fly as I stand there. In front of the entire table, I whip it out and slowly pee several more shots into the glass. Then zipping back up, I raise this yellowed sparkling liquid toward the chandeliers, cut off my breath and quickly drain the glass to the bottom.

Felix batters his way through life, both on and off the ice, in part to escape his Polish heritage. He grew up in a shack without electricity or running water, a child of immigrants maligned as DPs and Bohunks. Though crude and foul-mouthed himself, he never gets over his embarrassment at his father's accent.

Worse, his personal life seems cursed, bringing death and misfortune to those he is closest to. Does it have something to do with his malevolent grandmother? The book takes place during the years of the Solidarity movement in Poland, which has implications when his Finnish team travels to Leningrad for a game, and sets up a preposterous ending when he flies back home.

The ending tells us what the author thinks of such rats, er, people, who have so deformed Canada's game -- and that includes not just enforcers like Felix but also coaches, fans and sportswriters:

"We're going to have to do something about all this violence," the late Conn Smythe once said, "or people are going to keep on buying tickets."

Review by Lucas Aykroyd

POSTSCRIPT - A comment from MacGregor in his new book, Wayne Gretzky's Ghost: "Professional hockey players who have read it [The Last Season] love it to a point where at least two have claimed that I modelled Felix on them...."