If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of Team Canada’s locker rooms or wondered what’s going through a goaltender’s head in the most pivotal moments of a game, Sami Jo Small’s ‘The Role I Played’ is the book for you.
Small’s memoir of her time playing in the Canadian National Team program is so much more than that, though. It will appeal to everyone, from the biggest hockey fans to the people who barely know what a puck is it as she writes about the highs and lows from her 10-plus years on Team Canada.
Readers go on the emotional rollercoaster with Small as she’s called up, is cut, wins medals, watches others win medals, makes big saves in key games, and is told she won’t play. She lays it all on the page for readers, and you feel for her and with her. She does not shy away from the pain and sadness she felt when she was told she would be a third goaltender at the Olympics and would never see the ice. One of the most compelling parts of the book is how honest and raw she is in the lowest moments of her career.
She weaves together stories from her childhood and that time period to show her growth as a player and as a person, plus teach the reader what being a team player means, even when hurting so much personally.
Small’s vulnerability extends to the parts where she puts the reader in her head when she’s in net and the game is swirling around her. Even for hockey fans who know the outcomes of the games, her detailed and emotion-filled writing makes the game sections page-turners. She sheds new light on the games with her play-by-play and insight - almost scouting reports - into the players around her. It’s a bit like watching the game with a personal commentating team.
It’s not all sadness in her time with Team Canada. Small gives readers her perspective on so many “behind-the-scenes” moments. Her stories from off the ice and the bench make you feel like you’re there and paint players fans know in a more personal new light. Small talks about quiet moments, like the shyness of walking the streets of a foreign city with new teammates, about the loudness of team bike rides where something goes hilariously wrong, and about the moments in between down to who sits where on buses. It feels like reading Small’s journal more often then not, a huge highlight of the book. Women’s hockey fans who have always craved that insider access will eat it up.
Bigger than that, Small’s book is a historical marker for the sport. They’s plenty of recognizable names, but also just as many names few have heard of as she chronicles games the world may have never seen before or may have been lost to time. It’s not just international competitions but club games and tryout camps.
The historical aspect of the book shows how far the sport has come since she burst on the scene with Team Canada. She talks about the status of NCAA college hockey as teammates and opponents miss national team games to play for their schools. She talks about her youth hockey days and how different scouting for the national teams was when she was coming up. She talks about the original NWHL and what post-college hockey in Canada was like before the CWHL.
Put all of the pieces together, and Small’s book is one that will stand the test of time and should be on every hockey fan’s shelves.