Member Reviews

I'm drawn to any and all books about ice hockey, but especially books and memoirs about women's hockey and written by current or former players and coaches. This was a great look into the Canadian national women's hockey team from someone who spent years with the team, competing on the national and international stage.

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3.75 Stars. I felt like taking a break from my normal LGBTQ fiction because I enjoy a good memoir. I’m a big woman’s hockey fan so when I saw this book by one of Canada’s goalies, I knew I wanted to read this. I’m a USA hockey fan but I still have respect for Canada’s team. Canada’s team is so dominant that they are kind of like the NY Yankees where it’s easy to love to hate them. They win constantly (except for the last Olympics, YAY) but Small hooked me in enough that I was almost able to feel sorry for a few team Canada losses, well almost.

I expected this to be about hockey and it really is. 95% of the book revolves around hockey either on the ice or off. Luckily, it was good hockey with most of it being very exciting. If you are not much of a hockey fan, this book probably won’t be for you.

It was interesting being in the mind of a back-up goalie and what it is like to feel the need to constantly prove yourself since you are almost always one game away from being picked to start a major game or to being benched. I thought Small was very real and honest about her feeling towards the other goalies who were friends but also her main competition and the coaches that could make or break her. You feel very sympathetic for Small’s constant battle and I found myself shockingly even choking up at times. I was also surprised about how crappy I thought some of the Canada coaches were. With their poor decisions it seemed like Canada won a lot of games in spite of certain coaches and not because of.

I did think this book could have used another editing pass. I found some sentences that seemed out of order and some other issues. I got my ARC copy four months before this book was to be released so I’m sure that the book will be tightened up to flow much better in that time before release.

Another issue I had was with some of the other players. As a hockey fan I knew almost all of the USA players mentioned and a most of the Canada players, but not everyone. There would be times in the middle of a game that someone would shoot the puck and score. The problem was that I didn’t know who actually scored because it was the name of a player that had never been mentioned before. And if it wasn’t a more popular player that I might know, it would take me a while to realize oh that was Canada and not Finland that just scored. I understand with all the players Small played with she can’t introduce us to everyone but sometimes it just wasn’t clear enough.

The book constantly jumped around different time periods. From childhood to Team Canada days, then to being a teenager to team camp again. All the jumps are clearly marked so you know but the time jumps were not always the easiest to follow. I don’t really agree with this jumping around choice, but I did get used to it as the book went on.

This didn’t affect my rating any but I was hoping for a little more about some of the other team Canada players and any hijinks they were up too. The team seemed pretty mellow and less fun than I expected. Maybe it is all that pressure to always win but I think they need to take some tips from the USA Women’s soccer team on how to let loose and be more of a team off the field/ice too.

If you are a hockey fan I would absolutely recommend this. There were some really exciting hockey scenes and even some scenes that will make you a bit emotional. With no summer Olympics it was nice to go to the winter Olympics in this book. This book was very readable and a nice escape from 2020, the crappiest year that just keeps getting worse. RIP Notorious RBG.

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Women’s hockey has grown exponentially in the past 25 years, thanks in no small part to the sport being part of the Winter Olympics in that time frame. The two most dominant teams during that time have been the United States and Canada. One player who was part of the first three Canadian teams, goaltender Sami Jo Small, has written a memoir sharing her experiences at those three Olympics and brings the reader inside the life of a hockey player.

The format of the book is not the typical memoir in that Small will often take the reader back to her youth when a moment during practice with Team Canada or a break in one of the games at the Olympics will connect with something that happened during her formative years. One such occurrence was when she was handling her goalie equipment while on the bench. The next chapter starts when she mentions her equipment when playing hockey with the boys as a young girl. The transition there is fine but the reading of the book seems to be interrupted in these parts, especially when the flashback is done and the narrative returns to the game or practice with Team Canada. There are also some sentences thrown into a paragraph that don’t feel like they belong. One example – when talking about teammate Sari Fisk during a game against Finland, Sari takes a pass from the defense. The next sentence talks about her young daughter running around the rink waiting for Mommy to finish practice. Then in the next sentence Fisk makes a pass to a teammate. How does the sentence about the daughter fit into a nice hockey play? This was the only quibble I had with this book that is otherwise filled with great stories.

It should be noted that while Small was a part of the first three Canadian teams at the Olympics in 1998, 2002, and 2006, she saw playing time in only 2002 as she was listed as the third goalie the other two times and therefore was not officially on the roster for playing nor were third goalies allowed to be on the medal stand should the team win a medal. Canada did win a medal in all three years – silver in 1998 with a heartbreaking loss to the United States in the gold medal game, and gold in 2002 and 2006. Despite the relatively little playing time, Small writes about her time with the national teams with an upbeat, positive vibe and the reader will learn much about the inner workings of a hockey locker room and the routines of a backup goaltender.

Playing with goaltenders such as Kim St. Pierre, Manon Rheaume and Charlene Lebonte, Small writes with a roller coaster of emotions as she works hard to compete for playing time against her teammates but at the same time will support them when they are playing. The two Olympics in which Small doesn’t play shows the gamut of emotions. As a rookie with the 1998 team, Small is thrilled to simply be a part of history as the first women’s Olympic tournament is played. After seeing playing time and having a gold medal draped around her neck in 2002, she is devastated to learn that she had to serve as the third goaltender once again in 2006. Credit should be given to her for fulfilling that role admirably and being the biggest cheerleader for Team Canada as they defended their gold medal.

However, this book is not just about Small’s experiences with the Olympic teams. Small played hockey with men in both Canada and at Stanford University where she graduated with an engineering degree. She also played in the women’s professional leagues that were operating in Canada and even helped ensure the survival of one by doing administrative work for one as well after her Olympic career was finished. Small also talks about her personal life in just the right amount of text and emotion. The reader will feel like he or she knows about Small, but without getting too much information to make it feel intrusive.

While many hockey fans will recognize the contributions to the women’s game by American and Canadian stars such as Cammi Granato, Katie King, Haley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette, the contributions of players like Sami Jo Small should be recognized as well and this book will bring a lot of information and enjoyment to hockey fans everywhere.

I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I received The Role I Played through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I am so glad I did!

The Role I Played is Sami Jo Small’s story and takes the reader through her experiences as a Canadian hockey goalie. She takes you on a ride from her first National team appearance through three Olympics and onto her life post Olympics.

Before I read The Role I Played, I had never heard of Sami Jo Small, but now I feel like I’ve known her all along. I really enjoyed seeing her insider insights on Team Canada and the struggles of professional women’s hockey. She was around during the most formative years of the sport and made a huge impact. Reading about her dedication to the sport and her life in a professional sport that for years had only been seen as a male sport is very empowering.

I am a huge hockey fan and I have to say this is a must read for any female hockey fan out there who wants to see the behind the scenes of women in the sport. I am so glad I got the chance to read an ARC of The Role I Played! Sami Jo Small’s story is empowering and her dedication is inspirational. She even had me rooting for Team Canada along the way even though I am Team USA all the way!

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