Sunday, 14 October 2012

TBC: Tropic Of Hockey

I have had many books recommended to me over the time that Teebz's Book Club has been running. I've taken a few of the examples and actually made them part of Teebz's Book Club, but some books have nearly been impossible to find due to time and cost. One such book was today's book. Teebz's Book Club has finally acquired and is proud to present Tropic Of Hockey: My Search For The Game In Unlikely Places, written by Dave Bidini and published by McClelland & Stewart Limited in 2000. This book was incredibly good and an excellent read as I got further and further into the story about Dave and Janet Bidini's travels to some rather remote and unbelievable places where one can find hockey thriving.

From his biography on the McClelland & Stewart website, "Author and musician Dave Bidini is the only person to have been nominated for a Gemini, Genie and Juno as well CBC's Canada Reads. A founding member of Rheostatics, he has written 10 books, including On a Cold Road, Tropic Of Hockey, Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs, and Home and Away. He has made two Gemini Award-nominated documentaries and his play, the Five Hole Stories, was staged by One Yellow Rabbit Performance Company, touring the country in 2008. His third book, Baseballissimo, is being developed for the screen by Jay Baruchel, and, in 2010, he won his third National Magazine Award, for "Travels in Narnia." He writes a weekly column for the Saturday Post and, in 2011, he published his latest book, Writing Gordon Lightfoot". Yeah, the man is pretty accomplished in a number of fields, I'd say.

In Tropic Of Hockey: My Search For The Game In Unlikely Places, we find Mr. Bidini pretty much sick of the NHL game. The Stanley Cup Final has pushed into the summer, and he's discovered himself watching Martha Stewart rather than the game he grew up loving with the heroes he's always tried to emulate. Because of this problem, Mr. Bidini becomes acutely aware that he, like many other fans, has lost the passion for the game for which he once cared so deeply. And like anyone who has lost one's self, a pilgrimage would be the only way to rediscover that which he had lost: the game of hockey in its purest form where men and women still played for that passion rather than for money or fame.

His quest begins on March 1, 1999, and takes him to Hong Kong where he discovers a tournament being played on the eighth floor of a shopping mall just below a dragon-headed roller coaster! It's here where Mr. Bidini meets all sorts of interesting fellows with all sorts of tales of hockey. The Hong Kong Fives' Tournament featured teams from all sorts of places on the globe thanks to organizer Tom Barnes, it was the UAE team that would capture Mr. Bidini's attention more than once in Tropic Of Hockey.

Among the many places that the Bidinis saw and played hockey were Harbin, China, Dubai, UAE, and Miercurea Ciuc, Romania. The last place was actually one of the most interesting places that the Bidinis visited as the city is in what was once Transylvania! The interesting part about the trip to Ciuc (pronounced "Chook") was the political interference from the Romanian government due to the area's large Hungarian population. The people that Mr. Bidini speaks to during his time there make it abundantly clear that hockey is their outlet against the government's oppressive ways, and they love the game of hockey dearly.

Mr. Bidini's writing is very entertaining, very detailed, and has a lot of humor worked in. He rants about corporate purchasing of arenas, hockey players with goatees, music, and the NHL at points throughout the book, but he never gets too far off-topic. I found myself actually laughing at some of his comments and agreeing with his stance mainly because he speaks his mind in such an "everyday man" kind of way that it sounds like a guy ripping on a topic at a sports bar rather than an author just expressing his thoughts. In other words, Dave Bidini is a very good writer in that you feel like you're not reading a book when he's talking about whatever topic he's describing.

Dave spends a little time speaking about the athlete that started his passion for hockey. While some would name Gretzky or Orr or even Richard, the man who stoked the fire inside Dave Bidini was none other than Wendel Clark. He writes,
"1985 was my first full season back with the NHL, so to speak, and Wendel Clark was the first player to grab my imagination. His debut game, goal, and fight felt like my own. He wore number 17 - which numerologists say represents immortality - and played with a reckless drive not seen since Tiger Williams, belying the pugilist stereotype with a touch like crushed velvet and a wrist shot that flew at the net with the grace of a sylph riding the air. When I first watched him play, he struck me as the consummate hockey player: depending on his mood, he could beat you with either wild force or sublime artistry. Wendel had cross-generational appeal, too. Veteran fans liked him because he looked cut from granite and reminded them of Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, and Tim Horton - players from a distant era who did their jobs with a quiet and strong-willed intensity. Cynical cranks, their hearts crushed by owner Harold Ballard's systematic devastation of the mid-1970s, viewed Wendel as a portent of hope, a player immune to the new Leafs tradition of bad hockey, whose effort suggested expulsion from darkness. Kids drawn to the modern game were thrilled by highlights of Wendel's bone-mashing hits and bloody punch-ups with villains like Basil McRae, Tim Hunter, and Bob Probert. In Quebec, they gave him a name that sounded like a C.S. Lewis character: Wonder Clark. Fans from small-town Canada saw him in a soft-spoken farm kid who charmed the big-city on his own terms, the same way they once viewed Gordie Howe and the Bentleys. And when he lost the 1986 Calder Trophy to Gary Suter, an American, his reputation in Canada only grew larger. This was also the year of Free Trade. Wendel reflected our lives in more ways than one.
Wow. Simply wow. I mean, if that isn't how any player would like his legacy written, I'm not sure how to do it. That, readers, is a mere snippet of why Tropic Of Hockey is so good and why you need to seek out this book in a time when NHL hockey is less about the game.

Mr. Bidini's trek across the globe isn't about discovering hockey in places that one has never heard of, but it's about rediscovering the passion for the game. Tropic Of Hockey is about a man's desire to find the pure game where money and fame hasn't corrupted the players. What he finds, though, is that the love of hockey, from the smallest village to the biggest cities, doesn't need the NHL's stamp of approval. Tropic Of Hockey is all about the game in its purest sense, and that's what makes the stories of the men and women Mr. Bidini encounters so special. While none of them will ever go on to fame and fortune in any professional league, they all have played hockey because they love the game.

Mr. Bidini's excellent recounting of the tales of his travel, his hockey, and the people he's met along the way make Tropic Of Hockey an absolute "must read" for all hockey fans. The book itself would have to be rated PG due to the language used in parts of the book, but it would be no worse than what would be heard at any rink on a Saturday evening. The story, however, is worth every curse word as Mr. Bidini shows that being a fan of hockey doesn't require the letters "NHL" at any point. Because of this realization and because it echoes what I've been saying since the start of the lockout - that is, finding other hockey outlets to keep the fire for hockey burning - I have to give Tropic Of Hockey the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Look for Tropic Of Hockey at your local library! It might be the best place to find it without spending a pile of cash on the book!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Will S said...

Of all the books of Bidini's that I have read I like Tropic of Hockey the most.

You can get a used copy for around $6 including shipping to Canada - just look it up at