Roch Carrier talks about the hockey sweater that changed his life

First aired on DNTO (17/03/12)

roch-carrier-150.jpgIconic Canadian writer Roch Carrier epitomized the biggest hockey rivalry in the country with his classic book and animated short film The Hockey Sweater, which recounts the incident in Carrier's own childhood where Mr. Eaton mistakenly sends him a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey, rather than the Montreal Canadiens sweater that Carrier covets. His new sweater doesn't go over too well in the Habs-loving rural Quebec town where Carrier grew up, and the incident very nearly ruined hockey for him. Carrier spoke with Sook-Yin Lee on last weekend's sweater-themed episode of DNTO.

Carrier's now-classic story The Hockey Sweater first came about when Carrier, as a young writer whose first novel (La Guerre, Yes Sir) had been successful in both English and French Canada, was asked by CBC Toronto to write a piece about "what Quebec wants," said Carrier. He worked and worried over this theme, but couldn't come up with anything that satisfied him. So he called CBC to regretfully inform them he couldn't do it. But he was told that he had a time slot the following Monday, and they needed him to write something, anything! "Suddenly, I was connected with that memory of having this [Toronto Maple Leaf] sweater when my hero was Rocket Richard," he said. "So I wrote very fast about that story, and there was immediately a tremendous answer."

The story (if you're not familiar with it, you can watch the classic NFB animated film below) is completely true, said Carrier. "There's a photograph of me wearing the Toronto Maple Leafs [sweater] and I'm a nice little boy smiling, and people say 'if you were so disappointed, why are you smiling in the photograph?'" he said. "Because my mum went out with a Kodak, probably told me 'Roch, smile, it's a photograph!' and when my mum said smile, you smile!"

Though of course Carrier is proud that this story has touched so many Canadians, the fact that his career is so defined by The Hockey Sweater is a double-edged sword. "Sometimes I would like people to talk to me about the other 30 books I wrote," he laughed. "But I cannot be bitter or anything...that little story gave me so much. There is almost not one day in my life that there is not something nice that happens because of the story."