‘The extraordinary in the commonplace’

Hockey author reads from latest book Friday at The Grad Club

Dave Bidini’s rec hockey card.
Dave Bidini’s rec hockey card.
Photo courtesy Mcclelland & Stewart

Renaissance man Dave Bidini is at it again. The author of the critically acclaimed and widely popular Tropic of Hockey returns to write about the game closest to his heart. His latest offering is a book about the triumphs and heartaches of the everyday rec-league hockey player. Yep, Bidini’s singing this one out to the scrubs.

The Best Game You Can Name is the sixth book by the author-documentarist, who works a day job as rhythm guitarist for seminal, quirky Canuck rockers the Rheostatics.

The book’s focal point is the Exclaim! Cup, an annual hockey tournament with teams comprised mostly of Canadian musicians. Members of Sloan, Barenaked Ladies, The Constantines and The Sam Roberts Band, to name a few, participate year after year for bragging rights and a chance to hoist the coveted trophy. Bidini frames his story around the exploits of his team—The Morningstars—and their drive to secure the tournament championship.

For The Best Game You Can Name, Bidini uses the same format he did with On A Cold Road, interspersing diary-like narratives with interviews with old-timers. Except, instead of veteran Can-rockers, Bidini spoke to retired hockey pros like Frank Mahovlich, Steve Larmer, Bugsy Watson and Yvan Cournoyer.

“I was constantly surprised with how candid they were,” Bidini told the Journal in an interview by phone. “They were all really honest, upfront and frank.” “Players seem to get smart when they retire—it’s like they’re off the leash or something. They weren’t hiding behind any old clichés.”

For anyone who has read Tropic of Hockey, and especially the chapter titled “Tripped, Slashed, Speared,”—in which Bidini recounts being attacked by Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo during a particularly feisty rec-league game—it becomes very clear that Bidini is madly passionate about hockey.

“One of the great things about hockey is that if I’m out on the ice with somebody that I really just don’t like—like somebody who disrespects the game, or goes around hitting other teams’ weaker players, or somebody who I don’t like outside of the rink, or maybe made disparaging remarks about my band—all bets are off when I get out on the ice,” he said. “I can do whatever I want. It’s a great mode of self-expression that way. You can let people know how you feel. You can battle,” he said.

Bidini’s greatest strength is as a storyteller. He writes compelling anecdotes that are compulsively readable, weaving blue-collar poetics through all of his tales. In his celebration of the underdog, Bidini reminds us that the true magic of sport is not exclusively the domain of multimillionaire athletes and flashy half-time shows.

Our weekly beer-league games offer the same potential for drama and inspiration—albeit on a smaller scale—as the big leagues.

“A lot of hockey writing is concerned mostly with heroics and tales of romance and stardom and achieving one’s life dream,” he said. “But really, what makes hockey great is that it’s not that. It’s about the extraordinary in the commonplace. People can have these extraordinary feelings on the ice and can express themselves and go to places in their emotions that they don’t normally go to, but they can also get in the car and drive home and that’s just what they do.”

Bidini excels at articulating everyday moments of beauty and passion in our lives that we often fail to acknowledge.

“Those small moments that represent the magic of sports don’t necessarily have to be couched in big arenas with lots of fans and music,” he said. “That’s one of the things about the book; it’s like trying to draw a line between the intimacy and power of the game that a pro player feels, compared to what it’s like for just a rec player.

“When I was talking to a lot of those ex-pros, I knew that on one level we shared something—I had a taste of that magic, they had it on a different level for sure, but I don’t think it’s any less powerful.”

Check out Dave Bidini reading from his latest book The Best Game You Can Name for free, tomorrow night at The Grad Club. Devon Lougheed and Grace O’Connell, both ArtSci ’06, and Queen’s alum Tanis Rideout will also be reading.

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