Thursday, July 3, 2008

Midnight Hockey

No one in Canada is better at the combined tasks of writing and hockey than Bill Gaston. Not Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje. Certainly not David Adams Richards, whose memoir Hockey Dreams is subtitled Memories of a Man Who Couldn't Play.

Gaston on the other hand can play -- Junior hockey for the Vancouver Centennials, university hockey for the UBC Thunderbirds, and pro in Europe for a year. He's had his nose split open by Steve Shutt, and his bell rung by Denis Potvin.

He's also been short-listed for the Giller, the G-G, the Ethel Wilson Award; and he's won the Timothy Findley Award and the CBC/Canadian Literary Award.

In other words he's a ringer, a guy who can go top shelf with a puck or a well-crafted sentence.

The book's title refers to the late-night time slots that rec and oldtimer hockey games are given, the earlier times being reserved for kids. In hockey terms an "oldtimer" is someone who's reached the lofty age of 35.

Gaston has played a lot of rec and oldtimer hockey. Some of the teams he's played for are the Stinkhorns, the Old Goats, the Hurry-Kings. The names of these and other teams -- the Fogduckers, the Vasectomites, the Well Hungarians, the Flapping Dondalingers -- provide a clue to the nature of the book.

Humour is paramount. I laughed until tears ran down my face.

Sure, it's guy humour, but even my wife laughed when I read bits to her. But then she's a good sport. We spent our honeymoon in Florida, along with everyone else on my team. We were playing in a tournament.

Hockey has an almost mystical status in this land. The instinct to throw one's arms in the air after scoring a goal is something that Canadians are born with. But there's much more to hockey than scoring and winning. There's the camaraderie off the ice, the dressing room goofiness, the beer, the road trips, the nicknames, the goalies ("men from a distant galaxie").

For me, this was the perfect book to start off the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge -- and not just because it's such a darn good read. Once, as part of Canada Book Day, me and Bill took part in a progressive short story that travelled through each province and territory, with each writer tacking on a section. Sorta like the flip side of the Canadian Book Challenge.

Synchronicity or what?