“Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey” chronicles the life of Catholic priest David Bauer, who forever changed Canada’s international ice hockey program. Bauer, the younger brother of former Boston Bruins star Bobby Bauer, was himself a star player in junior hockey. But the younger Bauer decided against turning pro, and instead became a priest and then a hockey coach soon after. His decision wouldn’t just change his life, but the landscape of Canada’s Olympic Team for 30 years.
Bauer reasoned that pursing a career in hockey should not be at the expense of getting an education. He also realized that Canada could no longer succeed in the Olympics if they continued the practice of sending a senior amateur team to compete against “shamateurs” — year-round hockey players who held token jobs to maintain their amateur status — from countries like Russia and Sweden. Hence, the great experiment: develop a program for Canada’s national hockey team that would value education as well as international success.
“Father Bauer and the Great Experiment” details how Bauer played a vital part — either as a coach or manager — of three Canadian Olympic teams as well as numerous international tournaments. He helped grow “hokkē” in Japan prior to the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, and indirectly influenced other tournaments, like the Canada Cup and the IIHF World Championships. The popularity of Bauer’s Canadian National Team program, which was based in Calgary for some time, even influenced the Atlanta Flames to relocate there. Bauer mentored many future NHL players, such as Gerry Cheevers and Dave Keon, and worked hard to reverse the negative image that Europeans had of Canadian hockey and its players.
Quote that epitomizes “Father Bauer and the Great Experiment”: “I knew now that I could play in the NHL, but I had been disillusioned by what I had seen at the [Boston Bruins] training camp. I saw there an empty life, and seeing it somehow made me aware that I was looking for something more, a life in which I could fulfill goals beyond myself, goals of world peace which had began to occupy my mind more and more.”
What I like about “Father Bauer and the Great Experiment”: Author Greg Oliver did a great job of compiling an exhaustive work about Bauer, who passed away in 1988. He uncovered many old interviews and articles about the priest, and spoke with numerous players and colleagues of Bauer.
What I do not like about “Father Bauer and the Great Experiment”: While I don’t have any problems with this book, someone who is not interested in international hockey, particularly from Canada’s perspective, might not enjoy this book as much.
Father David Bauer was an integral figure in the evolution of hockey in Canada. His biography is an important piece of hockey history. ■
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