Book Review: Father Bauer and the Great Experiment

“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. 

Title: Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey
Author: Greg Oliver
Pages: 304 pages
Size: 6″ x 9″
Price: $29.95 U.S. /  $32.95 CDN (Hardcover)
Get it at Amazon for less
Kindle edition also available
Publisher: ECW Press

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. 

The book, available in hardcover and Kindle editions, has 18 pages of color and black and white photos, including several action pictures from international competitions. 

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. 

Rating 4 out of 5

Father David Bauer was an integral figure in the evolution of hockey in Canada. His biography is an important piece of hockey history.  ■

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Father Bauer and the Great Experiment”

  1. Nice book review. Looks like another one for my to read at the beach this year!
    I always found it interesting the similarities between Father Bauer and Les Costello who founded the Flying Fathers. Not just in their hockey lives as very talented players who became priests but their contribution to hockey in Canada. No doubt Father Bauer contributed greatly amateur hockey in Canada in a large way, but Father Costello contributed by making hockey fun at the grassroots level with his program – either giving kids a fun afternoon of hockey when they would come to their town or city and face off against whatever opponent was available or by inspiring kids to play and look to that higher level. Most importantly, I think each found a different path to incorporating hockey to do something bigger than the norm and that is probably the most fantastic thing about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *