Book Review: Nora’s Big Hockey Dream

Hockey can be hard, especially for those who feel that they don’t belong.

Nora’s Hockey Dream is Ryan Minkoff’s first children’s book but not his first hockey book. Minkoff, a former college and pro player who later founded the hockey agency 83 LLC, penned a memoir titled Thin Ice that I reviewed for SB Nation’s Blueshirt Banter. As you might imagine, this is a very different book.

When I settled in to read Nora’s Hockey Dream, I couldn’t help but expect the story to start with an awestruck little girl with her face pressed against the glass watching her first professional or international women’s hockey game. Sure enough, that is how Nora’s dream is sparked. For anyone who has been to a game, that is a familiar sight. It can also be a powerful sight. It can connect the dots for those who might not embrace the idea that if you can see it, you can be it.

If you’re looking for a way to introduce a youngster to hockey, this is a fine way to do just that. If you’re hoping to introduce them to the game while also making them aware that it might not be easy because they are different, this story handles that crucial topic surprisingly well. As you might expect, he doesn’t dive deep into these issues but he introduces the reality of sexism in sport. Nora’s story is a story of not feeling welcome to pursue something you love and are passionate about because you are different.

“I love that Nora’s Hockey Dream shows and tells – it shows a girl who pushes through adversity and tells us all, no matter your gender, race, background, or ability, to dream big.” - Hannah Brandt, USA Olympian; PWHPA Member

Hockey isn’t easy. It also isn’t always welcoming, especially for those who aren’t cis white men and boys. It can rob all of the joy out of a sport that needs to belong to everyone even though it often feels like it doesn’t.

“If you don’t have any positive support around you, it can definitely be tough,” Minkoff told The Ice Garden. “Nora kinda gets beat up by the boys, you could say, and that is a very discouraging place to be. I know that from what my sister went through playing with boys and from being around other girls and women’s players when I was playing. You could always sense a little more hostility and animosity when there was a woman on the ice.”

Minkoff is no stranger to women’s hockey. His mom was the business manager of the Minnesota Whitecaps for a decade. He grew up going to their games and interacting with some of the best players in the world.

“I would get to skate in some practices with them and they were unbelievable,” Minkoff shared. “The other thing is their love of the game was really inspiring. They weren’t making money to play on this team to train and put in all these hours or take trips to Canada to play a couple of games here and there. It was pretty much all on their own dime. That always stuck with me. It was inspiring ... it definitely influenced me and how I viewed the game.”

That experience, along with what his sister had to endure just to play the game they both loved, planted the seed for Nora’s Hockey Dream in Minkoff’s head. After he hung up his skates, he stayed close to the women’s game and represented NWHL All-Star defender Lexi Bender and Czech national team star Kateřina Mrázová. Fittingly enough, the star player that Nora is inspired by is named Lexi.

I don’t pretend to be a gifted reviewer or critic — especially of children’s books — but I was pleasantly surprised by Minkoff’s story about Nora and her path to the ice. There is a lot for a young mind to take away from these 38 pages and plenty of things for an older mind to reflect on when we think about how we introduce kids to a game that should love them back even in a world where most girls have to grow up playing with boys and are made to feel unwelcome just for being who they are.

I appreciate what Minkoff accomplished with Nora’s Hockey Dream. I appreciate the tremendous work by illustrator Daniel Fernández to give life to the story and to have women of all colors on the ice, in the locker room, and in the stands.

If you have a little one in your life who has expressed an interest in hockey or if you’re looking for a way to introduce them to the greatest sport in the world, Nora’s story is definitely worth sharing. You can view a few sample pages on the book’s page on Amazon to get a feel for Minkoff’s approach and Fernández’s illustration.

Nora’s Big Hockey Dream will be published on Feb. 1, 2022.