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Tropic of Hockey

by Dave Bidini

Dave Bidini – of the rock band the Rheostatics – has a level of enthusiasm for “our game” that goes beyond fanaticism. Words with religous associations spring to mind: reverence, veneration, adoration, worship. In his new book, disturbed by what hockey has become in this country, Bidini journeys in search of the game in distant lands, hoping to go back in time to an agebefore NHL games became “cheap electronic carnivals.”

Bidini goes first to China to play in the “Hong Kong Fives Hockey Tournament.” Fortunately for the reader he packs not only his equipment, but an imaginative sense of humour. Bidini “sucks in cold Zamboni fumes as if they were smoke from a magic hookah.” Playing on Olympic-size ice, the end of the rink becomes a “coastline thinning in the distance.” Such moments give Bidini ample time to reflect on his own hockey beginnings in Toronto, and on his idolization of Wendell Clark. Even the Chinese faces he sees remind him of Bobby Clarke; villagers near the Great Wall look like Johnny Bower.

In Part Two he travels to the United Arab Emirates for the “Mighty Camels Tournament.” The UAE evokes the Canadian prairie and the inspired Bidini is at his writing best. His description of the rink at Al Ain is dazzling, while a chapter on the male dynamic of the game – a “heterosexuality made comfortable and assured” – sheds light on the recent Marty McSorley trial.

A final section on playing the game in Transylvania is mere denouement, but no matter. Bidini has the game in his blood. Tropic of Hockey is a zany, fantastic romp.