Searching for Terry Punchout

By Tyler Hellard

Searching for Terry Punchout
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Shortlisted for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award

Shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Garden State meets King Leary in this slapshot debut novel.

Adam Macallister's sportswriting career is about to end before it begins, but he's got one last shot: a Sports Illustrated ... Read more


Shortlisted for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award

Shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Garden State meets King Leary in this slapshot debut novel.

Adam Macallister's sportswriting career is about to end before it begins, but he's got one last shot: a Sports Illustrated profile about hockey's most notorious goon, the reclusive Terry Punchout-who also happens to be Adam's estranged father. Adam returns to Pennington, Nova Scotia, where Terry now lives in the local rink and drives the Zamboni. Going home means drinking with old friends, revisiting neglected relationships, and dealing with lingering feelings about his father and dead mother-and discovering that his friends and family are kinder and more complicated than he ever gave them credit for. Searching for Terry Punchout is a charming and funny tale of hockey, small-town Maritime life, and how, despite our best efforts, we just can't avoid turning into our parents.

"An assured debut, wryly funny. "Literary Review of Canada

"A story of a father, a son and hockey that set[s] heart and mind reeling. "—Chris Benjamin, Atlantic Books Today

Tyler Hellard

Tyler Hellard grew up in Prince Edward Island, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University and now lives in Calgary with his wife and kids, where he writes commercial copy, technology criticism and essays. His non-fiction has appeared in THIS Magazine, The Walrus, and on CBC Radio. Before finally quitting hockey at 18, he was pretty bad at it.


Chapter One

This bed is my reward after three long days of driving. My body is stiff and aches with exhaustion. When I collapsed here, I was sure the bed would swallow me and I’d sleep for days, but the groaning springs, the mattress that smells of stale rust, and my own creeping anxiety won’t let me settle. If I’m being honest, it’s probably just the anxiety.

The Goode Night Inn sits on the edge of Pennington in northeastern Nova Scotia. It’s a motel for tourists: better people from better places who find musty mattresses quaint and charming. Every surface in the room is covered with lighthouses and mayflower patterns and decorative shells. There’s a coffee table made from an old lobster trap. Being here makes my chest tight, East Coast kitsch fuelling my panic.

I remember the people who own this place, or rather, I remember their son, Mark. Four years older than me, Mark Goode was leaving junior high as I arrived, and it was the same in high school. Talented, handsome, and popular, Mark never seemed like a real person. He was a Class President 1992 photo in our high school’s front hall and a name filling trophies in the glass case at the rink. Mark was captain of the Pennington Royals back when I believed playing for the Royals was all anyone could hope to achieve in life. Where had Mark Goode ended up? Wherever he is, I’m sure he has success and money and a pretty wife with whom he’s made a dozen pretty babies. How could someone like him not?

The motel ceiling is dirty, but even the dirt feels quaint. I can’t say for sure how long I’ve been staring at it. This is not where I belong. In fact, cutting out war zones and leper colonies and the really cold parts of Manitoba, this is the last place in the world I want to be. Pennington is a rot. It’s a stink that sticks to you like smoke from a campfire. It’s a glue trap; to escape means chewing off your own limbs.

I might be exaggerating, but only a little. I’m in the throes of an existential crisis, which can bring on certain failures of perspective.

“How long will you be staying with us?” Mrs. Goode asked me from behind the counter in the motel office when I checked in.

“I don’t know. A week?” Would I really be here for a week? Maybe more. Probably more. Indefinitely? Fuck.

Mrs. Goode raised her eyebrows when she read the name on my credit card, then furrowed them as she tried to solve the puzzle of my family tree. Lineage matters around here. She knew my stock was Macallister, though not which sort of Macallister.

“You’re Vivian’s boy. ”

Rats. Besides my father’s name, I also have my mother’s eyes.

“Yes. ”

“Your mother and I used to run around together,” Mrs. Goode said, holding her hands over her heart. “She was a lovely woman. ”

I pulled my lips back in a way that wasn’t wholly a smile, head down, eyes up, like a four-year-old who’s shit his pants and isn’t sure if he’s in trouble or not. Mrs. Goode, showing incredible kindness, let me off easy by handing over my room key without more discussion.

Pennington is a small town the way all towns in Nova Scotia are small. In the summer, it smells like salt, and in the winter it snows that wet, heavy Maritime snow—heart-attack snow, they call it. Everybody knows of everybody else and their business. The same guy has been mayor for thirty years and will be until he doesn’t want it or, more likely, he drops dead, at which time his son will probably take over. It’s a town that thrives on routine and expectation and neighbourly kindness. There are hundreds of towns just like this—Pennington, Pugwash, Tatamagouche, Antigonish, Pictou. The specifics don’t matter.

I need a drink. Maybe two. The Goode Night Inn doesn’t keep a stocked mini-bar. It feels late—in a Nova Scotia November, the sun sets shortly after lunch and doesn’t come up again until May—but my watch says it’s not quite nine o’clock. Actually, it says it’s not quite six o’clock because I haven’t spun it forward from Calgary time yet. I definitely need a drink. Probably two. It’s the only thing that will keep me from getting back into my truck and driving three more days to, well, anywhere else. I have nowhere to be, but I also can’t sit here anymore marinating in my own overwrought tension.

I dial the number to Sunshine Cabs from memory, surprising myself after all these years. Sunshine is two cars driven in shifts by a handful of guys, one of whom arrives in front of the motel in an old Monte Carlo about five minutes after I call. The cab’s interior reeks, a combination of the cigarette the driver is smoking now and the two hundred thousand that came before it. There’s no meter, Sunshine Cabs use a flat fee: five dollars inside town limits, seven to the rural roads.

“Where to?” the driver asks.

“A bar,” I say. “Pat’s Pub, I guess. ”

He looks at me through the rear-view mirror. “Pub closes at nine on Wednesdays. ”

Shit. “Are there any bars open?”

He considers my question for a second. “I s’pose J. J.’s will do ya. ”

I’ve never heard of it, so it must have opened in the last ten years. “Sure, take me there. ”

He pulls out of the lot of the Goode Night Inn and, four and a half minutes later, into the lot of the Pennington Recreation Centre. The rec centre, as its name hints, isn’t a bar. I spent a lot of time here as a kid and, from the outside, the building doesn’t seem to have changed at all. I make no effort to either pay or get out of the cab, and the driver eventually turns in his seat to look at me. Time and experience and smoke have weathered his face. I can tell this is a man who knows things—life lessons learned first-hand through circumstance and questionable decisions. I am in need of sage words of comfort and direction. He takes a long pull on his cigarette, the cherry glowing in dark silence.

“Bar’s upstairs. Five bucks. ”

As sage words go, they’re a bit lacking in comfort, but at least the direction is clear.


“There just aren’t enough good books that feature hockey. This is a good, funny and touching book that I really enjoyed reading. ”—Nerd Girl Loves Books

"An assured debut, wryly funny. "Literary Review of Canada

"A story of a father, a son and hockey that set[s] heart and mind reeling. "—Chris Benjamin, Atlantic Books Today

"Along with hockey, this book has good characters, funny lines, a little romance, and a touching story. "—Consumed By Ink

“When a story contains hockey, one last chance for redemption, a trip back home and some touching family moments, it is a story that is worth reading. All of these and more are contained in Tyler Hellard’s excellent debut novel. ”—The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books

"It doesn't take much to get me to read a novel featuring hockey and a guy named Terry, but Tyler Hellard's stellar debut hit me like an errant stick to the head. A big story set in a small town, by turns funny and sad, moving and melancholy, Searching for Terry Punchout stays with you long after the final buzzer. Masterful. "—Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

Searching for Terry Punchout is a funny, profane, charming romp of a novel about hockey culture in small-town Canada, which would be enough to recommend it on its own. But it’s also an engaging and insightful look at the way men try and mostly fail to be honest and emotional in their relationships with other men, and that makes it a must-read. ”—Chris Turner, author of The Patch and The Geography of Hope

"Tyler Hellard has created a thoughtful, warm-hearted, and deeply human sports tale, one that will resonate with any reader who has wondered if you can ever really go home again. Searching For Terry Punchout is a vivid portrait of small town hockey life, of fathers and sons, of feeling left behind and leaving things behind, of clinging to glory and grasping for meaning. With this strong debut, Hellard makes sense of what home really means, and in doing so reveals how close we actually are to the people and places that can often feel so far away. "—Stacey May Fowles, author of Baseball Life Advice

Searching for Terry Punchout does just what its title promises – packs a punch. Readers will be knocked out by Hellard’s dry and bittersweet humour as protagonist Adam attempts to navigate a return to the ‘charming’ small-town and father he bid adios to years ago. Hilarious and heartbreaking – an excellent debut novel. ”—Theanna Bischoff, author of Cleavage, Swallow, and Left

“Tyler Hellard’s Searching for Terry Punchout is utterly complete and heartbreakingly authentic. If all the rinks in small-town Canada and the game of hockey itself were to suddenly disappear from the earth they could be reconstructed from the blueprint that is this excellent novel. And if you know the game at all at its grass roots, you’ll recognize characters from these pages and never look at them the same way again. ”—Gare Joyce, author of The CodeThe Black Ace and Every Spring a Parade

"Funny, quirky, sad, and sweet. Searching for Terry Punchout is a story of friendship and family, of hockey heroes and small-town hangovers, of Zamboni lessons, and thrift store beauty queens. Highly recommended!"—Will Ferguson, author of The Shoe on the Roof

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