From Giller-nominated author Bill Gaston, proof not only that hockey players can read, but that some of them can even write.
Midnight Hockey tells the story of Gaston’s final season, as he contemplates hanging up his skates, and looks back on the sport that has meant so much to him.
Sometimes lewd and hilarious, sometimes (though not as often) reflective, Midnight Hockey is a portrait of Canada’s fastest-growing athletic phenomenon: beer-league and oldtimers’ hockey. Gaston spills the beans about the rules of the game (written and unwritten), weird beer, team names, and road-trip sex, illustrated with stories of Gaston’s life in the game, from the outdoor rinks of Winnipeg, through junior hockey, varsity, the professional leagues of Europe, to the late-night games and road-trip shenanigans of beer-league.
For all those thousands of guys who drive to the rink late on a snowy night, who know the euphoria of a beer after the game, who think of how good they used to be, who grow nostalgic over a whiff from an unwashed hockey bag – and for anyone who has had to live with such a person – Midnight Hockey is laugh-out-loud funny, true-to-life, and ultimately thoughtful.
About the author
Bill Gaston grew up in Winnipeg, Toronto, and North Vancouver. After spending a dozen years in the Maritimes, he moved to Victoria in 1998 to teach writing at the University of Victoria. He has published a collection of poetry, several plays, three story collections, and three novels, with a fourth, The Good Body, due to appear in spring 2000. "Where It Comes From, Where It Goes" won the 1998 CBC/Saturday Night Canadian Literary Award for fiction and was published in Saturday Night in May 1999.
Excerpt: Midnight Hockey: All About Beer, the Boys, and the Real Canadian Game (by (author) Bill Gaston)
A Few Words about This Book
One of my favourite writers is Annie Dillard, despite what she once said about writers who write books designed for specific audiences or markets, which is: “It amounts to a wasted and sad life.”
Well, I wasn’t sad, or even all that wasted, while writing this book. Though writing a book for hockey players does sound a little iffy. I mean, the suspicion is not only that hockey players don’t read, it’s that they probably can’t. But my equally strong suspicion is that this won’t deter them. So if this applies to you – that is, if you can’t read but have gotten this far – I salute you for helping me prove Annie Dillard wrong.
That rumour’s all nonsense, that hockey players are dumb. I know of several hockey players who read really well. And Eric Nesterenko, while playing with the Chicago Blackhawks, actually published a book of poems. (To my knowledge he was never beaten up for it – at least not by his own team.) During Hockey Night in Canada interviews, Ken Dryden’s lawyerlike mouth almost single-handedly succeeded in putting an end to that dumb-rumour, but it only half took hold. What I’m getting to in my roundabout way is that oldtimer hockey players only act dumb for a few hours a week, and they actually lead other lives. I’ve played oldtimers with truckers, doctors, mail carriers, chicken farmers, Buddhists, retirees, dirt hippies, preachers, dot-com millionaires, policemen, wood cutters, drug dealers, sea captains, witches, and eighteenth-century explorers. I’ve never played against an all-gay team – that I know of – but that’s probably coming. So, while as hockey players we may in fact not know how to read, in our other life we probably do.
This Season So Far
In life, nothing is so delicious as anticipating that next hockey game.
Well, okay, let’s not exaggerate, there’s that anticipation when, well, remember when you were nineteen and half the buttons were undone and your hands, hers too, were shaking and moving faster? That and, sure, I guess there’s also the anticipation of food, when you’re starving and the waiter slides that steaming plate of grilled garlic prawns under your face and you make an involuntary noise, and people from other tables look.
So sex, food, and maybe also shelter during a storm. But a hockey game is right up there.
Sitting in a schoolroom in Winnipeg, every Monday morning I would begin daydreaming about Saturday’s game and I would not stop. That next game was basically all I looked forward to in life. (No sex yet, and I doubt there were prawns in Winnipeg in those days.) In the meantime I would read my Hardy Boys books, and go to Cubs, and watch black-and-white TV, and hang around doing stuff, but all I was really doing was biding time. Physically inert but mentally on fire, I was scoring goal after goal in my imagination.
Same when I started playing oldtimers, I would go to work, stay interested enough to not get fired, and feel a constant pull in my gut about the game that night. Home from work, I’d bounce a kid on my knee, and he’d ask me what I was staring at, and I’d say, “Nothing, Connor,” and he’d say, “I’m not Connor, I’m Lise.” My gear would be bagged and waiting by the door an hour early. I remember once I had a game and my wife, the tardy FeeFee, was late coming home. I recall pacing, and shooting fierce glances at the clock every ten seconds. She didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car. She’d forgotten about my game completely and eventually it was too late for me to make the game at all. When she did finally get home, she said I looked as if someone had died.
So, after a whole summer off, anticipation of the first game of the year, well, that’s usually a pretty fine bit of excitement too.
But not this year. I’m not sure why.
I got the call from Lyle yesterday. I was at the kitchen phone, standing in the open door to the deck. Outside, the warm September sun shone and the evening birds chirped in that melody we assume has something to do with human happiness. It seemed far too early in the year for this particular phone call, but apparently we have a practice next week, then our first game the week following.
I picture the practice. It’s always the same. This single practice, which we humorously refer to as our training camp, will begin with a few three-on-twos. That’s to make it seem like a practice, which is where you do drills to “make you a better team.” Everyone will look horrible. Hardly any passes will connect, even from ten feet away. After five minutes of this ragged fiasco, Lyle will interrupt things and we’ll split in two and have a scrimmage. We won’t look any better, and passes still won’t connect, but a scrimmage is more fun. Which of course is the whole point.
So another season begins, but not for me – not yet, if at all. Which likely explains my dramatic lack of enthusiasm.
I’ll be missing this year’s training camp, and the first games. My back just doesn’t seem to be healing. I own a two-man kayak, a hog of a boat so big and stable you could probably stand up in it, throw your head all the way back and chug a beer. That information alone should explain the state of my back, but I’ll supply a bit more detail. Camping the past summer with my family, I was on the beach and the tide was coming in, and in order to keep my kayak from being swept away I had to haul it up one hundred yards of sand single-handedly. Picture a guy digging in his heels, reefing on a twenty-foot craft that is sticking to the sand like Velcro. The guy is greying and paunchy and has no discernible muscles, but he’s acting like he thinks he does.
“Midnight Hockey is a lovely book, which is to say bawdy, beautifully written, fresh, coarse, hilarious, smart, vulgar, joyful and as rank with the realities of putrid hockey bags, diminishing motor skills and impending death as . . . well, let’s just say it’s a lot like the hockey most of us play, those of us who are willing and able past the age of 35. Sidney Crosby wouldn’t get most of it, but I think his dad would.” —The Globe and Mail
“A wonderful homage to beer-leaguers and old-timers . . . who keep lacing them up long after youth has faded. Gaston . . . brings his artist’s eye to this tender, ribald and very funny memoir about grown men chasing pucks with beers at midnight. . . . Seasoned with reflections on beer, road trip sex, hockey in France and China, old guys dropping gloves, the sublimes tolerance of his wife and team names, both good . . . and bad. . . . This is a glorious book, a superlative valentine to the game for anyone who ever played, plays or wanted to play–and for those who love them.” —Vancouver Sun
"Bill Gaston's book stinks like hockey, as all great hockey books should."
—Dave Bidini, author of Best Game You Can Name, and Tropic of Hockey
“Midnight Hockey is a portrait of a game, an aromatic reminder of why the sport is an icon in Canadian life.” — The Sun Times (Owen Sound)
“The definitive ode to the ‘beer leagues.’ . . . A hilarious autobiographical romp through sweaty dressing rooms and drunken tournament weekends. . . . It’s page-turning, read-aloud-to-anyone-within-earshot material.” —TheTyee.ca