Keon and Me by Dave Bidini Book Review

Keon and Me by Dave Bidini
Viking Canada - $30.00 CDN

The Toronto Maple Leafs have an amazing history loaded with memorable characters both on and off the ice, but there are few more compelling and mysterious than Dave Keon, who spent 15 seasons with the club and was a major part of their Stanley Cup dynasty in the 1960s.

A generation of kids grew up with the always-sportsmanlike Hall of Famer as a personal hero due to his consistent play and quiet leadership, but a messy divorce from the team resulted in bad blood that has barely dissipated after nearly 40 years. Canadian author and musician Dave Bidini has long been known and respected as a prominent fan of the game and he was one of those kids that looked up to the former captain.

From the first paragraph of Keon and Me, the reader is instantly drawn in with his brilliant prose as the tone of the book is set. Frustrated by the lack of success by the Maple Leafs in recent years, Bidini takes his audience on a marvellous journey into the past that is sparked by randomly spotting a thug-like individual on the street wearing a jersey that has his hero's name on the back. Later on, he attends a concert by iconic Canadian rock band Rush at the Air Canada Centre and is dismayed to see that Keon's number, 14, does not hang from the rafters. As a result, he is spurred to track down the two-time Lady Byng Trophy winner – or at least attempt to try to figure out how things got to this point between club and player.

The narrative of Keon and Me alternates brilliantly and almost seamlessly between an 11-year-old Bidini and the writer as an adult. The chapters featuring the boy are set in the 1974-75 NHL season and he is a die-hard fan of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and in particular, of their veteran captain. At that time, the future Hall of Fame member was in a bitter final year with the Maple Leafs and headed toward a showdown with team owner Harold Ballard which ended with a defection to the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association. Since that time, the Maple Leafs have attempted to extend the proverbial olive branch, but Keon has rebuffed them and has been chosen to stay out of the spotlight since retiring as a member of the Hartford Whalers at the end of the 1981-82 campaign.

Keon and Me isn't exactly the typical hockey biography, but there is a plethora of information about the Hall of Famer's remarkable career. It is instead a compelling hybrid of personal reflection combined with a history lesson. Several of Keon's former teammates are questioned about why he no longer has a relationship with the Leafs and none of them seem to have a definitive answer. Bidini goes to great lengths to get a greater sense of who his childhood hero is and even travels to his hometown of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec to talk to people he grew up with and shares some incredible and colorful stories along the way.

Any reader familiar with Bidini's work likely knows that he is truly one of Canada's artistic treasures and Keon and Me may prove to be his best book to date. He takes an open and honest look at his own youthful naivete and strengthens his love for the game of hockey in the process, facing up to long-dormant personal demons along the way. Easily a candidate for the best hockey book of the 2013-14 season, this is a must-have for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the sport's historians – especially those from the generation that fondly recall Keon's on-ice exploits.