The same year Saul arrives at St. Jerome’s, a priest named Father Gaston Leboutilier begins teaching there. He’s unusually cheerful and kind, and he takes the children on long hikes outside. He also starts a hockey team at the school.
Immediately, Saul portrays Leboutilier as everything the other teachers are not: happy, warm-hearted, and genuinely concerned about his children’s happiness.
Father Leboutilier urges Saul to join the hockey team, insisting that hockey is “the greatest game” there is. Saul agrees to attend a hockey game with Father Leboutilier, and ends up loving it: the energy and unpredictability of the game make it thrilling to watch. However, Leboutilier tells Saul that there’s secretly “an order to the game,” and that Saul just has to be patient and wait to understand it.
From the beginning, Wagamese suggests that hockey is a metaphor for the world itself. Saul has experienced life as a chaotic jumble, but now, at the moment when he’s beginning to make sense of his life, he begins to make sense of the game of hockey, too.
To his own amazement, Saul finds that he understands hockey almost immediately. He’s good at seeing the ebb and flow of the game and understanding how players have to fight to gain an advantage on the ice. Much like his great-grandfather, who had the gift of sensing exactly where a particular moose was, Saul seems to be able to understand hockey without trying.
The way Wagamese describes it, Saul’s talent for hockey is both a reflection of his assimilation into White Canadian culture and of his Indigenous Canadian heritage.
Saul begs Father Leboutilier to teach him how to play hockey. Father Leboutilier sadly explains that only older boys are allowed to play—Saul’s going to have to wait. However, when Saul begs to be allowed to shovel the snow in the hockey rink, Father Leboutilier agrees.
Saul is so desperate to learn how to play hockey that he’ll take on any job, no matter how onerous, to get close to the game.