The Peculiar Inspiration of Hilliard Graves

My card isn't signed, but here is my Hilliard Graves inspiration

My card isn’t signed, but here is my Hilliard Graves inspiration

I have in my office a secret writing shrine. It isn’t much really—just some notes from editors, some acceptance and rejection letters, some writing notes from projects, a few photocopies of first lines from novels or inspirational art, and some personal creations my son has given me over the years. Among this cellophane mosaic are some peculiar items. I have a note of encouragement from an anonymous student, a job ad from 2008, a Japanese golf tee, and part of a poster from a concert I loved but no one else attended (except the band’s moms and dads). Each of these reminds me of certain things in my vocation I’m apt to forget.

I also have a hockey card of Hilliard Graves.

“Who’s Hilliard Graves?” you might ask. It’s a good question, and strikes to the heart of why I have the hockey card of an obscure NHL player in my writing shrine.

Hilliard Grave’s illustrious career is summarized by three lines in Wikipedia:

Hilliard Donald Graves (born October 18, 1950 in Saint John, New Brunswick) is a retired professional ice hockey player who played 556 games in the National Hockey League. He played for the California Golden Seals, Atlanta Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets. During his career he was known for having a devastating hip check.

That’s it. No Stanley Cup rings, no award nominations, no significant leadership on struggling teams, no desperate goals in the dying seconds of the game. He played 556 games, and the best that can be said about him was that he had a good hip check.

And the California Golden Seals? Really?

There is more to Hilliard Graves’ story that might first appear. Moving toward the NHL he was quite a strong player. Playing here in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Islander, for the “Islanders,” he was a very strong scorer. He netted almost a goal a game. In 38 games he had 97 points altogether—a record-setting year. My father-in-law remembers the Islanders going to the playoffs that year, and only losing to Red Deer in the finals.

But the reason I have his card is not because he played locally. And it’s not because two of the leading local psychiatrists were also on that amazing ’69-’70 team. No. The reason I have his card up is because of his performance in his first NHL season with the… ahem… California Golden Seals.










Charlottetown Islanders








California Golden Seals







That’s right. Graves is drafted into the NHL and he bombs his first season. 14 games: no goals, no assists, nothing. He was a minor NHL enforcer, and yet he didn’t even warrant a penalty that year.

It’s no surprise that he was sent back to the minors. When he was ready, he played reasonably well. He was never a big goal-scorer or phenomenal playmaker, but he worked his way from the Golden Seals to the Flames (then in Atlanta) to the Vancouver Canucks and finally to Winnipeg, where he finished quietly. And that’s it. He retired into obscurity, remembered mostly for his contribution to the only genuine run the Charlottetown Islanders ever had. Even his ’78 hockey card stretches for something good to say:

“He takes pride in being one of the few players capable of throwing a good clean hip-check. One of an increasing number of Eastern Canadians in the NHL.”

There’s that hip check thing again. Then a sentence that can’t even be bothered to have a verb. That’s his hockey card.

So, you might ask—and have already—why do you have the hockey card of the unremarkable Hilliard Graves in your writing shrine? Good question, again.

For me, it comes down to the unremarkableness, in a sense. This moustachioed hip-checker made little impact in the NHL. But, come on—it’s the NHL! I mean, except for the Soviets training in secret cold war nuclear silos, these are the best players in the world. And it is a select group, perhaps three or four hundred at any one time. So when we consider Graves’ unremarkableness, we need to put it in context: he was in the middle of the pack, but it was the greatest pack in the world. At one time, he was one of the best right wingers in the game.

Put like that, Hilliard Graves seems much more remarkable to me.

The world of fantasy writing and children’s literature is a crowded one. The explosion of the self-publishing technology combined with the rise of celebrity fantasy means that there are hundreds of fantasy writers publishing at any one time. As someone who is trying to work his way into that pack, it can be pretty overwhelming. Sitting down to write “Once Upon a Time” on a blank page is a startlingly huge task when the hope of being read is faint to the point of foolishness.

But then there is Hilliard Graves. Forgotten by most, perhaps. Overrun by stronger members of the pack, certainly. But he’s got a hockey card! I mean, that’s something, isn’t it? And he got paid to play the game he loved at the highest level there is.

So I have Hilliard Graves’ unremarkable hockey card in my writing shrine. It reminds me of my vocation—I am a writer. It is not all of me. And I may not be the next J.K. Rowling or C.S. Lewis. But I keep writing, hoping for my own hockey-card like introduction to the publishing world, some little outpost of readers who might remember my work in the years that follow.

So, Hilliard Graves: much thanks for your unintended inspiration. It means the world to me.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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11 Responses to The Peculiar Inspiration of Hilliard Graves

  1. robstroud says:

    A very apt analogy for both of us, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Callum Beck says:

    Well this was the last subject I expected to see in your blog. When I saw the title I just assumed there must have another Hilliard Graves who was an author. I had trouble imagining you writing about him or any hockey player (for those readers who do not know personally know Brenton, let me just say he is much better at stick-handling with words than he is with black rubber discs). But there he was and an apt and relevant analogy to boot.

    My brother (the psychiatrist noted above) was Hil’s centre and the second leading scorer in the league, also drafted by the mighty Golden Seals. The Islanders hockey was perhaps the most exciting PEI ever saw. I actually do not think Hil played their last year when they lost to Red Deer but the year before they took Guy Lafleur’s Ramparts to the brink before losing in six games.

    So thanks for the thought and the chance to recall the glory days.


  3. Thanks Brenton. I went to high school with Hilliard. I understand he’s into harness racing in PEI these days. Your tribute to a regular guy doing what he loved resonated with me.


  4. jubilare says:

    Right there with ya. 🙂


  5. Pingback: Some Reflections on my 3 Day Novel Experience | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  6. Chesley Williston says:

    I have a photo signed by Hil when he played for the seals and consider it a privilige to have as a maritimer,he lived the dream during a time when not to many easteners were being looked at to reach the NHL level.


  7. Pete M says:

    No award nominations? A bit of research would have showed he scored 27 goals, 25 assists in his second season and placed 8th in the voting for the Calder Trophy for outstanding rookie. Why you would single out his first season when he was called up from the minors at the end of the season and received little playing time in 14 games is curious, since that’s how a lot of players’ careers start. The only reason he might seem “obscure” is because he played for two west coast teams at a time when 75% of the league was located east of the Mississippi River, so the west coast teams were ignored and didn’t get much press coverage. If Hilliard had that 27 goal season on the Canadiens or Bruins he would have been very well known and placed higher in the Calder voting.


    • Thanks for the correction, Pete. Someone local did the same thing here. But he also sort of got what I was digging at–just a random moment of life that prompted a meaningful thought for me.


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