One hot afternoon in 1998, Dave Bidini – who loves hockey, watches it, plays it, and breathes it – found the Stanley Cup final so tedious to watch that at one point he clicked channels to Martha Stewart – and never switched back. This made him wonder where in the world the game might exist free of the complications of professional sport. He set out to find the tropic of hockey.
His quest took him to a rink on the seventh storey of a mall in Hong Kong – a rink encircled by a dragon-headed roller coaster – and to the gritty city of Harbin in northern China, where a version of hockey has been played for 600 years; to Dubai in the desert of the United Emirates, where hockey is brand new and incredulous Bedouin drop by the Al Ain rink to touch the ice; and to Transylvania, where the game is a war between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians, who were introduced to hockey by a 1929 newsreel of Canadians chasing the puck.
Bidini’s encounters with odd-sized rinks and players of wildly different talents and experiences have inspired him to interweave his stories of hockey in unlikely places with funny and eyebrow-raising stories about places and players back in Canada. As a bonus, readers are also treated to some striking observations about the game, its fans, and the testosterone, the profanity, and the moments of grace that enrich it.
Canadian writer and rock musician Bidini (On a Cold Road) shares his rediscovery of hockey and the global odyssey that brought him back to his nation's sport. Bidini's narrative is funny and thoughtful as he comes to grips with national identity, which in Canada almost invariably means hockey. The book's central theme is that of a dispossessed fan, one who grew out of the sport as he embraced rock and roll, only to rediscover the joy and beauty of hockey as an adult. An avid recreational player, Bidini tells a funny story about his search for the real game. Bored nearly to death by the clutch-and-grab NHL of the late 1990s, he spends an evening watching Martha Stewart instead of his once-beloved playoffs. "I had no choice but to leave," he quips. And leave he does, searching the earth for hockey in its purest form. From Hong Kong to Manchuria, from Transylvania to the United Arab Emirates, the author discovers players and personalities the casual NHL fan would never imagine. Like all good travelogues, Bidini's carries a healthy dose of soul searching; a great storyteller, he's at his best when he stumbles upon revelations about himself or hockey. Perhaps the book's greatest strength is that it is among the first hockey books written by someone entirely outside the pro game. Free from the behavioral constraints and clannish codes of the locker room, Bidini tells a story about hockey that neither Wayne Gretzky nor the author's beloved Wendel Clark could mimic. Canadians have enjoyed this book for almost two years; it's time American readers got a chance to read this gem.