Randall Maggs reflects on the legacy of hockey goaltender Terry Sawchuk

A reprise of The Next Chapter's interview with Randall Maggs about his award-winning poetry collection, Night Work: The Terry Sawchuk Poems.
Night Work by Randall Maggs was released 10 years ago. (Brick Books)
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Terry Sawchuk was a legendary goalie who played 21 seasons in the NHL. He died in 1970, after a fight with a teammate. He'd had a life of hockey highs and personal lows. And he played half his career without a face mask. The Newfoundland writer and teacher Randall Maggs was fascinated by Sawchuk and 10 years ago, his book Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems was published and went on to win a number of prizes, including the Winterset Award, the E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize and the Kobzar Award. Now, a tenth anniversary edition has been issued.

Shelagh Rogers interviewed Maggs 10 years ago when the book first came out.

Local hero

"As a kid, when I was playing hockey myself we lived in Winnipeg and of course that's where Terry's from. He's a little older than I am, but we used to play in the same rinks up in the north end of Winnipeg — it was a long time ago, but I think it was Elmwood in West Kildonan. We were acutely conscious of him and all the other great players that came out of that city."

The power of the game

"That game was just so much a part of our lives in those days, even more than it is now and I guess it was my father that got me interested in it. I remember listening to those games on the radio and he'd just be sitting at the kitchen table and drinking his tea. He loved the Detroit Red Wings, which is why Sawchuk would have been very much somebody that was in our minds, and if they were losing and it was getting closer and closer to the end of the game, he'd just get lower and lower. If they lost he'd be up out of his chair without a word and he'd go out into the barnyard and spend the night in the barn and you wouldn't see him until the morning."

Sawchuk's backstory

"The attractive aspect of this story is just the irony. He was at the top of his game. He played 21 years — much longer than anybody else — but he was just miserable from the beginning and had a really difficult time. His personality underwent a huge change after the second or third year. Terry was overweight when he was a young man. When he came back after a phenomenal first year, he was even heavier and they made him take weight off. His mother says his personality changed entirely as a result of that. I suspect one of the problems was that he'd been suffering from an undiagnosed eating disorder. I think nobody knew about that.

"He was an immigrant. I don't think that people in this country treated immigrants particularly well back in that period. And he grew up in the north end of Winnipeg, so I think he had that problem as well. There are just so many aspects to this story that are absolutely fascinating."

Hockey through poetry

"I've been asked a lot about why I am using poems to write about hockey. Well, if you harken back to the earliest poetry — like Beowulf or The Iliad — you're seeing poets celebrating the values and virtues that those people demonstrate on the battlefield. It's no different from hockey. Sawchuk — and all hockey players, to some greater or lesser extent — embody those values for us. I think they represent certain values that we look up to, certain strong positive human values."

Randall Maggs' comments have been edited and condensed.