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The Best Game You Can Name

by Dave Bidini

Hockey nomad/writer and Rheostatics guitarist Dave Bidini’s latest effort is an entertaining collection of candid outtakes from interviews with mostly 1970s and ’80s NHL players, overlaid with way too much detail about the fun yet parochial Exclaim! Cup, a mostly musicians-only hockey tournament that takes place in Toronto every Easter weekend.

For hockey fans of a certain age – say, 35 and over – a lot of gems are uncovered here. Iron Man Garry Unger played hard and played injured in part because he had a younger sister who had polio; Brad Dalgarno, a first-round pick of the New York Islanders in 1985, had his face broken in a fight with Detroit Red Wings tough guy Joey Kocur and missed more than a season recovering. He eventually lost his passion for hockey. When he left the team, he “walked across the Nassau Coliseum parking lot and I couldn’t feel the ground beneath my feet. I was on a high. I’d taken control of my life. It was the first real hard decision that hadn’t been made by somebody else.”

It’s generally more interesting to hear the stories of players who occupied the fringes because they have less to lose by being candid than the superstars (who usually offer only bland, instantly forgettable pap). So kudos to Bidini for seeking them out.

The problem with the book is that if you’re not part of the Toronto music scene/hockey axis, of which Bidini is a prime mover, then you’re not likely to be amused by either the cute nicknames or the puck- or pub-related antics of the author’s Morningstars squad. These sections occupy the front part of each of the book’s 16 quirkily titled chapters.

Mostly, and for good reason, nobody gives a damn about beer leagues except for their participants. If Bidini had ditched his team for more recollections by former NHLers, he wouldn’t need a major for unsportsmanlike conduct.