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Dave Bidini
Books by Lorna Jackson

Victoria's Beacon Hill Park, summer's end: squirrels frantic, flora drab and pitchy, a hockey's-coming chill. Dave Bidini slouches warm and ironic in his Hockey Night in Canada polyester blazer. The tippy fedora circles his endless forehead, and with white high-tops, a big spontaneous laugh and face, he's half boy, half man.

"You're fucking with the time-space continuum when you're talking about hockey as it relates to history," he says about the structural dekes of his new book. The Best Game You Can Name (McClelland & Stewart, $34.99) is half Studs Terkel oral history, half John McPhee narrative of one hilariously nasty all-musician game with Bidini's Toronto rec team, the Morningstars.

Canada's most articulate and mercenary sports writer, Bidini wrote Tropic of Hockey and Baseballissimo, works that proved sports-and-travel writing—if concocted with love, wit, and skill—can astonish. For those books, he left comfy and smug Canada to study players, their cultures and games, or, as Bidini wise-asses, to undertake "an inward journey of self-discovery through sports".

Enough about him: Best Game is "a domestic portrait", he says, that lets NHL players from past eras tell stories. "Players die," says Bidini, "and their stories die with them." But via 44 men—Tim Ecclestone, Steve Larmer, Walt McKechnie, Eddie Mio—Bidini hooks some of those words before they're washed out with the pro-sports tide.

"For a lot of these guys," he explains, "all they had were their stories. Some of them are Wendy's franchisees; some sell real estate. They're born as people after the game. They're boys; they move into themselves with the game at their back. And that's what makes them great storytellers and interesting people. It's not just them in twilight; it's them now. So for them to express themselves that way"?—he goes muted and sincere—"it's kind of a beautiful thing."

Self-doubt, soul-shredding injuries, unhinged sex and boozing-not the usual glamour. Given a good locker-room anecdote, Bidini was counselled by a psychotherapist friend to ask players "How did you feel about that?" and away they went into what the author calls "deeper emotional territory". Frank Mahovlich on the Group of Seven. Jim Schoenfeld on the death of teammate Tim Horton ("I went out and shovelled snow from one part of the patio to the other, then shovelled it back."). Shaped by Bidini's craft-centric eye and ear, the material—including the Morningstars' quest for hockey infamy—is stunning.

"Beyond the subject matter," he says, the book treats hockey writing as a serious literary endeavour. "It's been booted in the balls a lot of times by the literati. It's a stubborn fight to try and write this kind of book. I want people to take away from this that you can write about the game in an uncommon way. You can get in there and mix it up. It's just like in hockey. We need more renegades, more rebels. And like with the band"—Bidini's Rheostatics—"you want younger people to see what you do and go, 'I wanna do that; I wanna do it like that.'?"


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