Welcome back, Hockey Season!Created by 49thShelf on October 13, 2011
Bidini returns to the game he loves best
In 2004, Dave Bidini laced on his skates and slid onto the ice of Toronto’s McCormick Arena to play defence with the Morningstars in the E! Cup tourney. While thrashing around the ice, swiping at the puck and his opponents, Bidini got to thinking about how others see the game. Afterward, he set off to talk …
A FROZEN RIVER OF STOUT
If it’s true that the best time for sports is when you’re eleven, I’ve discovered that it’s also pretty good when you’re forty. My athletic renaissance came on the heels of turning thirty-four, which is how old I was when I lit out to discover world hockey. Later, and older, I spent an entire summer dogging an Italian baseball team up and down the Boot. One evening while I was in Nettuno — my Italian baseballing town — I paced with some agitation behind the town’s seawall, holding my cellphone and listening to my friend Ozzie from his couch in Etobicoke, Ontario. He was shouting the names of undrafted nhlers: “Thomas Vokoun? Available, I think. Comrie? Gone. Brisebois? You really wanna pick Brisebois?”
Purple waves licked the beach not twenty feet from where I was standing under the bright Roman moon, pondering the kind of quibbler that must have perplexed Marcus Aurelius or Cicero or any number of Latin thinkers who’d paced this same long stretch of sand:
“Anson Carter gives us depth, sure, but if Brian Boucher’s around, you know we can never have too much goaltending.”
Ozzie paused while a Sputnik orbiting hundreds of miles overhead ensnared our transcontinental frequency in static, then volleyed a thought about the unpredictability of a young American goaltender. Would Boucher ever supplant Sean Burke as number one in Phoenix, he wondered, and, hey, what was Italy like anyway. I told him that Italy was fine, just fine, then pressed on with the matter at hand: to draft our fantasy league team with a handful of other hockey freaks.
Arguing eggheadedly over draft picks during the sweet soft hours of an Italian evening — to say nothing of spending what should have been prime holidaying time catching fungoes — is proof that sports means as much to me now as it ever did at age eleven. Which is saying a lot. As a boy growing up in suburban Toronto, my life was a hockey card collection, a gas station stamp book, a Team Canada poster, an Export ‘A’ Leafs calender, Gordie Howe’s name scribbled in blue ink on the back of a beer mat, Tiger Williams at Kingsway Motors, a pair of Marlie greys, a front tooth knocked out by Martin Dzako’s street hockey follow-through. I was just as obsessed as the next scamp with the gladiators of ice, but my friend Murray Heywood went one step further. When Murray was eight, his brothers would invite their friends over to watch the kid put on a show. He’d leave the room while they put a hockey card on the kitchen table, obscured except for the players’ eyes. They’d call Murray back into the room. He’d guess right every time.
The players Ozzie and I drafted onto our fantasy team were the adult equivalents of a hockey card collection. We obsessed over them as we once obsessed over the flat, sugar-dusted squares stacked stat-to-stat in shoeboxes and lunch tins. A fondness for the outdoor rinks and skating ponds and scraps of ice that collect in the ravines, creeks, and parking-lot potholes of my kid-dom returned after a long, post-adolescent, soul-clearing wander into the land of art, love, dope, movies, and the strains of Killing Joke. Hockey had been drummed out of my heart, head, and hands by demanding coaches, aggressive peers, and a natural tightening of life, to say nothing of the siren of rock and roll. It had led me away from sports, but it had taken me back there again. In rinks like Bill Bolton, Moss Park, DeLaSalle, St. Mike’s, Scadding Court, Dufferin Grove, McCormick, and Wallace Emerson — each pad seated near the heart of the city — I rediscovered the game.
This rebirth of sporting love is common among youngish Canadians who, on the other side of twenty-five, suddenly see hockey as being more than just the domain of guys in mullets weaned on White Snake and Extra Old Stock. A collection of these enlightened folk can be found every Easter weekend at the Exclaim! Cup hockey tournament, a yearly play-down sponsored by Exclaim!, a national music magazine that is to The Hockey News what Thurston Moore is to Michael Hedges. The tourney takes place over four days and features twenty-four musician teams whose players, like me, fell out of, then back in, love with the game. Members of the Fruit, Dufferin Groove, Wheatfield Souldiers, Victoria Humiliation, Vancouver Flying Vees, Edmonton Green Pepper All-Stars, and all the other teams know that while the dividing line between art and sport is thick, the E! Cup proves that the geek and the goon can co-exist, even flourish in a single body.
During the tourney, rinkside rock bands serenade the crowd with everything from “More Than a Feeling” played in twenty-second kerrangs to the occasional hippie drum-jam extended for as long as it takes the referee to collect players for a faceoff. It’s the Vans Warped Tour meets the Allan Cup Finals. At the evening socials (coined the “Hockey Hootenany” by the organizer, Morningstar Tom Goodwin), the teams become bands again, executing the kind of cultural switcheroo that never would have happened back in my high-school days, not when left wingers were beating the snot out of safety-pinners on local football fields. For their performance at the ’04 Hootenany, the Montreal entry, organized by Ninja Tune records, debuted a work by British electronic music king Amon Tobin: a remix of the Hockey Night in Canada theme. The tune — transformed by Tobin’s thunderous beats and growling industrial textures — became a celebration of hockey without the macho cruelty, art without the arrogance.
The E! Cup began as a challenge match between the Sonic Unyon Pond Hockey Squad (Sonic Unyon is a Hamilton label that’s put out records by Frank Black, Sianspheric, and Mayor McCA, who also happens to be Ric Seiling’s nephew) and my team, the Morningstars, which has suffered three straight Cup losses after winning the first three.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Good Body is a triumphant blend of mordant humour and heartbreak. It tells the comic and poignant story of a retired pro-hockey ruffian named Bobby Bonaduce who is stubbornly ignoring a disease — multiple sclerosis — that may be killing him. Bobby returns to his hometown and scams his way into university in a misguided attempt to redeem his …
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 s …
The Scarlets are hard-hitting, tough-talking hockey players. There's brash Toad, confident and witty, and there's troubled Hal, unofficial team captain, whose mother is terminally ill. There's French Pelly and there's hilarious Heezer, who waitresses at Hooters to pay the rent. And then there's Iz. Iz has a long, fraught relationship with her sport …
With a voice as Canadian as winter, David Adams Richards reflects on the place of hockey in the Canadian soul.
The lyrical narrative of Hockey Dreams flows from Richards' boyhood games on the Miramichi to heated debates with university professors who dare to back the wrong team. It examines the globalization of hockey, and how Canadians react to the …
If you think that you are a Canadian, then my boy I will show you I am a Canadian too—if they check me from behind I will get up, if they kick and slash I will get up. If we play three against five for fifteen minutes I will get up. I too am a Canadian. They will not take this away from me. Nor, can I see, will they ever take it away from you. At the moment they think we are defeated we will have just begun. I will prove forever my years on the river, on the back rinks, on the buses, on the farm teams. I will prove forever that this is what has shaped me.
The book that hockey fans have been waiting for: the definitive, unauthorized account of the man many say was the greatest player the game has ever seen.
The legend of Bobby Orr is one of the most enduring in sport. Even those who have never played the game of hockey know that the myth surrounding Canada’s great pastime originates in places like B …
On the river, he could skate forever. No barrier but the banks and the horizon, the ice stretching far out into the bay. Soon enough, the cold seemed to disappear, even for the boy who always insisted on lacing up barefoot – it just felt better, more natural, that way. Take the puck, and try to hold it. Keep away. Offer it up, then pull it back, tuck it behind the blade, make it disappear. Sleight of hand, sleight of feet. Learn to keep your head up, your eyes forward, feel the puck on your stick, don’t look down. Speed up, change direction, the motion natural, deceptive, economical, graceful. No churning legs or laboured strides, even on beat-up, second-hand skates. He is smaller than the rest, a skinny kid, scrawny, no meat on his bones at all. But they can’t get near him, even though it looks as if he isn’t working hard, as if he is shifting through the gears in automatic – one speed, then another, then another. Size and muscle are of no use, without corners, without ends, without limits. There are no coaches standing by, waiting to impose their will. No parents shouting at the side. No drills, no repetition, but rather every rush is an improvisation, a jazz solo, a flight of the imagination. And when the boy is clear of them all, or alone by choice, when all he faces is open ice, the other sounds of his world disappear, the intermittent hum of small-town traffic, the rumble of distant factories, the angry shouts at home. Just the scrape and gouge of metal on ice, the rhythmic tap of rubber on wood, on, on forever. Pick a direction and keep on going, and eventually there’s no one in the way.
Why people settled here is no mystery, though in the middle of many a brutal winter they must have wondered. Parry Sound, Ontario, stands by a natural harbour on a deep, cold, dangerous lake, a shelter for sailors on the shores of Georgian Bay at the mouth of the Seguin River. The earliest known residents were the Hurons, who fished and camped in summer before being driven out by the Iroquois, but surely there were others before them. “Shining Shore,” the Iroquois named it – Wausakwasene. When the Europeans arrived, those who passed by here were among the very first and most famous to set foot in what would become central Canada, traders and explorers and adventurers and sailors, Étienne Brulé and Samuel de Champlain, Robert de LaSalle sailing his Griffon, Alexander Henry, doomed Sir John Franklin. The place got its name, a tribute to the Arctic explorer Sir William Edward Parry, from an English surveyor, Capt. Henry Bagwell, charged by the Crown with the task of mapping Georgian Bay. Soon after arrived the lumbermen, to fell and exploit the endless forest. The first sawmill opened in 1857, and with it naturally came the town’s first industrialists. In 1897, a railway was cut through the forest, and within ten years the town was connected to the great transcontinental line, with a trestle constructed over the Seguin linking what would become known as Belevedere Hill and Tower Hill, an engineering marvel and local landmark, the longest east of the Rockies. Industries would come and go, and from the moment the countryside became accessible, tourists began to arrive, marking Parry Sound forever. Here was the wilderness within easy reach of the big cities, the Great North Woods, though not really so far north at all, not far past the point of demarcation where the flat agricultural plain of Southern Ontario gives way to the rocks and trees of the Canadian Shield. Even Teddy Roosevelt, that connoisseur of the exotic, dropped by in 1908 to sample the accessible wilderness. He was just one in a long, unbroken line of “summer people” stretching back more than a century who became one-half of the town’s great divide. The other half, the full-timers, scratched out a living, survived the dark winters and then watched their town come alive with cottagers and vacationers during the long days and brief weeks of summer. The visitors had money and leisure time, and inevitably it was their business, and not the resources, not the factories, that provided the town’s economic pulse.
The only fundamental difference between Parry Sound now and the town in the 1960s, the 1950s and before is a diminished sense of isolation. Then the great urban mass along the shore of Lake Ontario, the most densely populated place in Canada, was a half-day’s train journey away, or a three- or four-hour drive on lousy roads. It is half that now, not quite commuting distance, but not far off, and on this ever-shrinking planet, no one could disappear here, no great talent could be hidden away, and no one could feel that they were out in the bush alone. Eventually, the line of development creeping north from Toronto might reach this far. Eventually, Parry Sound might not feel like such a separate, different place. As of now, though, it retains its unique identity; it is still “Parry Hoot” (the old nickname left over from a wilder past for the part of the town that wasn’t dry) and always – as the big sign out on the highway has proclaimed for more than thirty years – The Home of Bobby Orr.
“I may change my thinking a bit later in life, but right now my idea of the good life is to make my home in Parry Sound and raise a family here,” Bobby said to an interviewer early in his NHL career – though of course he was speaking in the fairy-tale language of the sports hero, though of course it wouldn’t quite work out that way. “I like the slow pace of life up here and I like the outdoors. I don’t really like the big cities – with all the people rushing around. Some people thrive on it, but it isn’t my idea of living. The life in Parry Sound represents Canada to me. What goes on in [Boston] is more American. It is all right if you like it but it’s not for me.
From the Hardcover edition.
Steven Galloway's first novel, an incredible coming of age story, now revised and available in trade paperback from Vintage Canada.
Finnie Walsh is a captivating, Irving-esque story of family, friendship, redemption, and legend.
Paul Woodward lives in Portsmouth, a quiet northern mill-town. Born the day Paul Henderson planted the puck between the pip …
Finnie Walsh will forever remain in my daily thoughts, not only because of the shocking circumstances of his absurd demise, but because he managed to misunderstand what was truly important even though he was right about almost everything else. Finnie Walsh taught me that those in need of redemption are rarely those who become redeemed.
Finnie Walsh’s parents owned more than half of Portsmouth, the mill town of 30,000 where Finnie and I grew up. I still remember the startled look on my father’s face the first time he peered out the front window and saw me in the driveway shooting pucks with his boss’ youngest son. My father’s concern was not motivated by fear for Finnie’s safety; Finnie Walsh, a strawberry-blond, freckled boy with stubby fingers and slate-grey eyes, was not at all frail. He was of a sturdier than average build for a child his age, almost pudgy in a cheerful sort of way, and was only small when compared with his father and three older brothers, who were gigantic.
Mr. Walsh had felt that Finnie would benefit from some toughening up, so instead of sending him to the all-boys’ prep school that his brothers and most of the other children of Portsmouth’s wealthier citizens attended, Finnie was enrolled in Portsmouth Public School. It was there, in September of 1980, packed into Mrs. Sweeney’s third-grade classroom, that my friendship with Finnie Walsh began.
For four generations, the Walsh family had been Portsmouth’s main employer. My father was the most recent in a long line of men named Robert Woodward to work in the Walsh family sawmill. The older I got, the more I understood how much my father wanted me to break the cycle and work somewhere else. With this in mind, my father insisted that I not be named Robert. “Our family,” he often said, “is stuck in a rut.”
When I met Finnie Walsh, I was too young to realize that we weren’t supposed to be friends. It didn’t take long for Finnie and me, thrust together in the back row of Mrs. Sweeney’s alphabetically ordered classroom, to become inseparable. We each had substantial hockey card collections, although we were at odds about which cards were valuable and which were not.
My favourite player was Wayne Gretzky, who had just begun his second season in the NHL. Finnie’s favourite player was Peter Stastny, a Czechoslovakian rookie with the Quebec Nordiques.
“Gretzky’s okay, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. I think he’s flashy,” Finnie said.
If there was one thing Finnie Walsh didn’t like, it was “flash.” It was for this very reason that we ended up playing hockey in my driveway that day instead of the much larger and smoother driveway leading up to the Walsh estate. Finnie agreed that his driveway was in all ways superior to mine; he just didn’t want to play there.
The Walsh house was very flashy. It was situated in the middle of a seven-acre lot overlooking the river. Upstream from the mill, of course. The grounds were surrounded by an imposing wrought-iron fence. In many ways the house resembled the American White House, except that it was made of brick. Fountains, benches and a gazebo dotted a magnificently manicured lawn surrounded by an excess abundance of flowers. Mrs. Walsh had been an avid gardener. She had died when Finnie was a baby, but as a tribute to his late wife Mr. Walsh hired an extra gardener to maintain the flowerbeds.
The first time Finnie and I played hockey in my driveway, we didn’t even have a net. I drew one on our garage door with chalk and for a while we just passed the ball back and forth, taking the odd shot. My father was working the night shift that week and every time we scored the ball slammed against the garage door and woke him up.
Having had his sleep disturbed several times by a strange echoing thud, my father got out of bed and came to the front window to investigate. He peered between the drapes, watching me stickhandle, feathering a tape-to-tape pass between the legs of an imaginary defenceman. Through the window, I saw him frown and furrow his eyebrows. Finnie took the pass, went inside-out and shot one hard at the top corner. Thud! My father clenched his jaw. Suddenly it dawned on him exactly who had taken the shot. When he realized that Finnie Walsh, Roger Walsh’s son, was in our driveway, his eyebrows arched and his jaw unclenched. He disappeared behind the curtains.
Finnie and I celebrated the goal, a perfect combination of teamwork and individual skill. My mother appeared in the window. Her face changed from disbelief to shock as Finnie won the faceoff, beating the opposing team’s centre, and rifled me a pass. I took the puck on my backhand and, spinning around, gave it back to Finnie. He had gone to the net and was there to tip it by the goalie, who had no chance on the play. My mother vanished into the depths of our house.
Sometime, late in the third period, my mother opened the front door and told me that supper was ready.
“Can Finnie stay?” I asked.
She looked startled, even though I often had friends stay over for supper. “I’m sure Finnie has supper waiting at home for him already, Paul,” she said.
My mother hesitated, not wanting to offend Finnie. She didn’t know what to make of the situation. “Would your father mind, Finnie?” she said slowly.
“No, Mrs. Woodward. My father usually doesn’t get home until late.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose it would be all right then.”
We went inside. I caught my parents shooting each other questioning looks while my mother set an extra place for Finnie between me and my sister, Louise.
Louise squinted at Finnie; she was always squinting. Louise was two-and-a-half years older than me, a shy kid who didn’t really have many friends; she seemed content to keep to herself. She spent most of her time in the basement, where she had an impressive array of toys. Some of them most girls would never have wanted to play with. For that matter, some of them no one would have played with, boy or girl: an old ironing board, a tire jack, a collection of pine cones and duck feathers. What she did with them I never knew. I wasn’t much interested in toys then. Whenever I got a new toy for my birthday or Christmas, I would half-heartedly play with it for a few days before it was invariably relegated to the basement, a new fixture in Louise’s imaginary world.
Occasionally, when it rained or we were home sick, I would sit on the basement stairs and watch Louise rule her tiny empire. It was understood that I was not welcome to join her, not out of jealousy or spite or sibling rivalry, but because this world was hers and hers alone. She was indifferent to my presence, not ignoring me, but not paying me any special attention either. Louise’s “kingdom,” as my father jokingly called it, was an interesting but perplexing place.
“Hi, Louise,” Finnie said.
She didn’t answer him. She looked at the ground, her fingers kneading the tablecloth.
“Louise, be polite,” my mother said.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Woodward. I understand. Louise is shy.”
My father, who apparently was not used to such candour from a seven year old, nearly choked on his coffee. Louise blushed and pulled more frantically at the tablecloth.
We had meatloaf that night, which was never my favourite dish, but since then I have liked it even less. Finnie, however, looked as though he had never eaten meatloaf before and he ate it with such obvious relish that you would have thought it was lobster and caviar instead of ground beef and ketchup.
This impressed my mother immensely. She was not used to people enjoying her meatloaf. “Would you like more, Finnie?” she asked him after he had wolfed down the contents of his plate.
“I sure would, Mrs. Woodward.”
“No thanks,” my father and I said. Louise said nothing. She wasn’t really expected to answer. My mother piled Finnie’s plate high with a block of ground beef. My father was pleased; the more meatloaf Finnie ate, the less would wind up in his lunch box. Although he never complained, my father didn’t like it when he had to eat the same meal at work as he’d eaten for supper that night.
“Did you boys have a good day at school today?” my father asked us.
“Peter Bartram threw up at recess,” I said.
“Has he caught something?” My mother always wanted to know if there was a flu going around.
“No,” Finnie said. “Jenny Carlysle kicked him in the balls.”
“Peter Bartram is an ass,” Louise said.
“Louise!” my mother said, horrified.
We were all shocked. I was shocked that Finnie had gotten away with saying “balls” at the supper table; my parents were shocked that Louise had spoken in front of a non-family member.
“She’s right, Mrs. Woodward. Peter Bartram is an ass. He beats up kids way smaller than him and he put a firecracker under a dog’s collar and lit it.”
“He did what?” my father asked.
“He put a firecracker under a dog’s collar and lit it!”
“Was the dog hurt?” My mother looked like she was going to cry.
“Not physically,” Finnie said. “But I don’t think it’s quite right anymore.”
“Why did Jenny kick him?”
“It was her brother’s dog,” I said.
“If it were my dog, I’d have done worse,” my father said.
“If it were my dog, I’d have put a firecracker in Peter’s pants,” Finnie said.
“I’d have put a nuclear bomb in Peter’s pants,” my father said.
Finnie and my father laughed. He appeared to have forgotten who Finnie’s father was. The two of them were talking like they were old friends. Even after my mother cleared away the dishes, they made no move to leave the table. Finally my father looked at the clock and stood up. “Well, I suppose it’s about that time.” That was what he said whenever he had to go to work.
“What time?” Finnie asked.
“Time to go to work,” I said.
“Now?” Finnie apparently did not know that people worked at night.
My mother handed my father his lunch box and he left.
Later, as Finnie was leaving, he thanked me for having him over. “A lot of people don’t like me because of my dad.”
“Why?” I didn’t see why that should have anything to do with it.
“I don’t know,” Finnie said. “Your dad is nice. He looks awfully tired, though.” Finnie stepped out the door and got on his bike. He smiled and rode up the street toward his house.
I closed the door and thought about what he’d said. My father definitely was nice. He often looked tired too, that was true, but that evening he’d looked especially tired.
Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked: On Hockey is much more than the first book-length appreciation of NHL hockey written by a woman. It is much more than a celebration of the Vancouver Canucks — past and present — and the city they call home. Smart, sassy and sexy, brashly opinionated and original, it offers up an inspiring vision of hockey, an apprec …