My years of playing, coaching, and administering hockey provided rich and juicy material for fictional characters and plots. I started writing journal notes on the one-hour bus rides to and from UW when we lived on the East Side of Lake Washington, 1979-1982. But it’s a big leap from notes to story to novel. I read more fiction and about writing fiction. I learned from Margaret Atwood, John le Carré, Raymond Chandler, Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, Stephen King, and many others. Fiction was a side job, supported by academic writing and teaching. Slowly, however, the journal notes grew to a half dozen chapters of what became The Commissioner: A Sports Mystery—completed in my retirement, after many drafts. See below.
I am almost finished with a prequel, set in 1916 in Boston. The protagonist is Ben Towne’s great grandfather Nate, who must untangle a deadly web of corruption and racism that threaten his brand of hockey as war rages in Europe and beyond, and as he navigates his own wounds from war and grief. This book includes some historically real figures, so both plot and characters require more of my historian’s craft. Stay tuned.
I am already mapping out the pre-prequel, set in Boston in 1886, where Nate Towne’s father Josh lives and works in a rapidly changing and expanding city, where hockey’s wildly popular precursor provides the fodder for his battles against corruption, discrimination, and grief.
March 1971, I'm coaching an American team playing in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden
Commissioner Ben Towne grieves the suicide of his brother, the end of his marriage, and the gnawing recognition that his world of high-level college hockey is as crooked as the war he saw in Kuwait. But on this February weekend, on the eve of another war, he chases a chance for redemption—a chance to take down Ryerson College and its head coach Ted Farnum, the man he believes destroyed his brother. Across a backdrop of vanishing evidence, personal danger, and thrilling hockey, Towne discovers bonds of grief, betrayal, and enlightenment with an unlikely ally in his fight against corruption in college sports.
The cover art is an important part of the book, and of my life. Josh drew it in 1989 and gave it to me. At the time, I was in my 6th straight year as an academic department chair. In a dinnertime “how was your day” go-round, I had probably groaned about being in a position where I was constantly pulled from many directions. I loved the drawing and put it next to my office door, with a label: Administration. It drew lots of hoots. It’s a perfect cover for The Commissioner and it appears several times in the story.
Fiction allows me to use observations from my years as a hockey player, coach, league administrator, faculty representative to the NCAA, and father, in imaginative creations of characters that the canons of historical scholarship prohibit. Fiction is an itch I must scratch, a place I go repeatedly. I am already working on two historical prequels in which the Towne family experiences the rise and corruption of amateurism in American sport.
“Steve Hardy has brought back an era of college hockey when larger-than-life personalities dominated the game, on and off the ice, and yet he places this fast-moving story in a more modern time. As a result, there is something in The Commissioner that multiple generations of hockey fans and sports fans will recognize. It is clear that Steve has seen the game up close and the realism comes through on every entertaining page.”
— Joe Bertagna, former Hockey East and ECAC Hockey Commissioner, and author of Late in the Third.
“Full of accusations and assumptions, corruption and compassion, friends and foes, straight-shooters and sneaks, The Commissioner takes us through a wild hockey-filled weekend that’s as delightfully mysterious as life itself."
— Jason Blake, author of Canadian Hockey Literature: A Thematic Study.
Penelope Alvarez with her new favorite book.