The Fictional Hockey League

Critiquing hockey romance novels, of which there are many. Overthinking it is the point.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 3

Chapter 2: The Stinky Hockey Man Meets the Heroine

Chapter two starts from the heroine’s perspective. (And OMG I am so incredibly grateful that this novel isn’t perspective jumping like Play the Man did.) The heroine is filmmaker Jennifer Hunter, and she’s currently avoiding Axel because he’d pounded on the conference room doors and didn’t even bother to take off his helmet. (I’m not sure how she knew that latter part since she didn’t see him.) Somewhere, Axel is demanding to know where Jennifer is (she can hear him), but she’s got her arms folded on the “cold steel railing that circled the practice rink” (14).

Has everyone who writes these things only ever seen seriously old-skool rinks, outdoor rinks, and The Mighty Ducks? There’s no place in any average rink that has a place where you can fold your arms on the railing unless you’re on the players’ bench. Everywhere else has, y’know, plexiglass to stop the pucks from hitting you in the face. So the Phantoms’ practice rink is either very odd, or the writer has not done any research, or Jennifer’s face is smooshed into the glass.

Nevermind, let’s go with that last one.

Jennifer is avoiding Axel in part because he’s a very large, sweaty man who is stomping around and in part because she doesn’t want to be making this documentary. She’s “an activist for social change” and is completely uninterested in athletes. She’s been tasked with making something commercially viable (this documentary) in order to gain funding for the project she actually wants to do (“about the way girls used social media to ostracize those they rejected socially” (17), inspired by the way her sister, Julia, had been treated.)

But she’s there to do the work and Axel finds her.

Thick, dark stubble didn’t hide one heavily scarred cheek. His accent made her want to listen to him speak for a long time so she could trace the cadences and vowel sounds (14).

Well, it’s a short book. There has to be immediate attraction.

Even without the skates he must be at least six-foot-five. His chest was broad enough that she could have lain on him like a bed and had room to roll around (15).

First, that’s a really weird metaphor. Fortunately, the author seems to realize that because Jennifer even thinks it’s “an odd image.” Second, he’s still in his gear—shoulder pads and chest padding. Admittedly, not padding like a goalie (I’m constantly surprised when I see Roberto Luongo or Mike Smith without their gear on. “You’re so skinny!”) but still. Of course his chest is broad. That’s not really a description that can accurately be made until he’s out of his gear.

…the scent of pungent male sweat assailed her nostrils. … no amount of wind power would freshen up a place built on undiluted testosterone (15).  But as he leaned in closer for the customary greeting, the sweaty musk of his workout hit her. Damn near choked her. … His sea-blue gaze twinkled with the sadistic urge to kill her with sweat-stink (16). …Axel had assaulted her nostrils with deadly intent (16). “And choking to death in noxious locker rooms was in (my job description)” (18).

“I was anxious to find you before the full effect of my workout died down.” He waved a hand around his chest to waft the scent of sweat her way.

Covering her nose with one hand, she used the other to point at him accusingly. “I knew you looked sadistically pleased when you shook my hand. You were trying to asphyxiate me” (18).

The biography of the author says she’s a mother of sports-obsessed boys. I think she might have had to wash some hockey gear in her time because this is quite the amount of text spent on the unique aroma of hockey stink. Mind you, I don’t think it’s testosterone Jennifer is smelling—I think it’s ungendered hockey fug, but still.

The coach introduces Jennifer and Axel and she nearly asphyxiates from the smell. She plays it cool, saying she’s glad to meet all the players so she can get ideas for storylines. This freaks out Axel, although she, unlike us readers, doesn’t know why. She also suggests he might have a girlfriend who would like some screen time, which seems to upset him further. (Since Jennifer has been “coaching nonprofessional actors into evoking a mood on camera” she can tell what he’s thinking as “the nuances of body language were well-known to her” (16). I suppose it’s an improvement over Body Check’s Hayden being able to tell what Brody was thinking based on his eyes.)

Jennifer tries to convince Axel of why she’s there and why giving some backstory is important (otherwise it’s just a hockey game broadcast). Axel ponders this “scratching the inside of a shin guard with his hockey stick” (18).

It’s nitpicky of me (that’s the point of this blog, though) but that sentence doesn’t make sense. Even if you assume the narrative means “under a shin guard” not the actual inside of the shin guard which probably doesn’t get itchy, what with being made of plastic and not alive, I’m unclear as to how he’d be doing it. Shin guards go on under hockey socks, and then you tape all of that in place. It would be just a bit less difficult to scratch (absently, no less) under a shin guard with a hockey stick than reaching an itch under a cast.

There’s a bit more back and forth and then Jennifer suggests that Axel show her around after he washes up because she’s drawn to him. That said, her obstacle is already set up in that she won’t let herself act on that spark between them because she might have to “extract a story line from him that he wouldn’t like” (19).

Dunh dunh dunnnnnhhhhh.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 2

Chapter 1: Bog of Eternal Hockey Stench

So here’s the set-up. The Philadelphia Phantoms, despite being an NHL team about to head into the playoffs, are about to become the subject of a documentary because “The league needs the publicity and the Phantoms need the exposure” (10).

Yes. Because hockey in Philadelphia, who would have thought? There’s only been an NHL team there since 1967. And goodness, let’s definitely get some publicity for the NHL, since it’s only been around since 1917. To be fair, there are documentaries/tv shows about hockey teams. Most notably, there’s Oil Change which is about rebuilding the Edmonton Oilers. (Spoiler alert: they’ve been rebuilding for an awfully long time and still kinda suck.) There’s also 24/7 which is a documentary show that’s built around rivalries, I think, and they’ve done a few about NHL teams leading up to the Winter Classic games, although I heard just yesterday from a reliable source that they’re not going to do NHL anymore. So I’m not suggesting that the idea of cameras following a team around for a month is unheard of, just the reasoning.

Let’s meet our hero, Axel Rankin, self-proclaimed “defensive goon.” He does not want to sign the waiver to be filmed. He has Sekrit Reasons for this, as having his daily life broadcast would bring back old enemies in Finland.

For you see, Axel Rankin grew up in a Helsinki ghetto and his old motorcycle gang is surely waiting for the right moment to blackmail him and seeing him on an American documentary will surely open that door.

Frankly, the idea of a Helsinki ghetto and Finnish motorcycle gang seemed anathema to me, so I did a Google search, which is about all the research I’m willing to do at the moment. (I’m a busy lady.) I cannot find any references to a Helsinki ghetto (although there is a DJ/MC group called Helsinki Ghetto Bass Patrol, which … okay, sure.) On the other hand, motorcycle gangs of Finland? Actually something to be concerned about at one time. Behold, the Great Nordic Biker War of the 1990s.  I really and truly did not see that coming.

I also discovered that Finnish former NHL player, Jere Kararlahti, in 2008, was charged with drug smuggling in a case that also included a motorcycle gang. This has pretty much nothing to do with this book (I hope) but I thought the coincidence was amusing enough to share.

It still seems odd to me that a motorcycle gang would keep close tabs on former members in case they can blackmail them. But not such close tabs that they hadn’t noticed he’s playing for the NH-freaking-L. Unlike, say, American football, NHL hockey actually does get airtime in other countries, particularly Nordic ones where many of the NHL players come from.

Regardless, Axel Rankin, former motorcycle gang member and current NHL goon, is perhaps less wildly unlikely than I original expected. We learn that his best friend, Phantoms forward Kyle Murphy is also his foster brother. Apparently the Murphy family somehow managed to help Axel move to the US for his senior year of high school and attendance at Boston College. I don’t know if foster here means foster in the sense that we tend to use it, or if it means “billet” in the way that many Canadian major junior players live with other families while they play. I also want to know how a former member of a Helsinki ghetto motorcycle club learned enough English and other subjects to get into Boston College. And even more curious, how a young motorcycle gang member played enough hockey to be that good. The text might try to explain this at some point, or it might be a giant handwave. Either way, I’m considering it improbable at best, at least until I get more information.

The coach tells Axel that everyone has to be in the documentary, so he signs, but he also decides that he’s going to his best to scare off the director in the hopes of the documentary failing, a task which becomes even more important to him when he learns that the director is “a chick”.

He wasn’t some backwoods misogynist or anything, but then again, he wasn’t a fan of females in the locker room. And hey, to be fair, he wouldn’t have taken up journalism and expected free access to the ladies’ showers if he was following a women’s sport (12).

I watch a lot of hockey and have never seen journalists in the showers. Yes, in the locker room and sometimes the players are half dressed, but that’s their choice. I do know a female former sports journalist who mentioned the awkwardness of interviewing men 2 to 3 times her size when they’re wearing only a towel, but it’s part of the job, both on the journalist’s side and the players’. So I find this annoying, from start to finish, and Axel can take his backwoods misogyny and shove it.

Axel decides the best way to get rid of the director is by meeting her immediately, while he still stinks from practice. (He’s still in his gear and everything. This also seems unlikely. He apparently went straight from the ice to the head coach’s office in order to sign (or not sign) the waiver. Even if you’ve been doing it a long time, walking around in hockey gear, particularly the skates, is awkward. Surely there’d be time for paper signing after the showers? And hell, I bet you couldn’t have more than 2 players in their gear in an office – they wouldn’t fit. This choice is pretty much about convenience so Axel is still sweaty-stinky-gross when he meets the heroine.

That said, I’m delighted that the author recognizes the special horror that is hockey sweat. Seriously, for some reason it’s got a pungency that is unlike any other aroma. Since Axel has just gotten off the ice, sweat is dripping down his forehead (10). This is the first time I’ve seen a hockey romance author get that right. At Coyotes practices, you can ask players for autographs as they get off the ice. You often get a whole bunch of perspiration on whatever it is you’ve asked them to sign, along with their signature.

To be honest, when meeting the players like that I’ve never noticed their, um, aroma, but we were always in the very cold rink, not the warmer conference room (as Axel is heading to). And I have to imagine that NHL sweat isn’t any sweeter smelling than amateur player sweat, and I have a fair amount of experience with the latter.

The smell of unwashed hockey equipment alone could send grown men to their knees. What woman would be able to stand the stench inside an enclosed space like the conference room? (13).

Axel is actually not wrong. Personally, even if I haven’t been playing and I’m near someone who has but who is still in their gear, I don’t recall ever being hit with a wave of stench. But the gear itself? Oh yes, quite. And players who have taken their gear off but not yet showered? Also yes. (And myself, after the gear is off but pre shower? Admittedly yes. Gross.)

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen, heroically attempting to dissuade the heroine using the unusual method of hockey stench.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 1

Chapter 1: Philly Phantoms

After the drudgery that was Play the Man, I thought I’d flip back to my friend the Harlequins for book #3, so here we have Her Man Advantage by Joanne Rock. It’s another from the Blaze series, so we should expect relatively explicit sex.

The cover shows an awkwardly posing couple in a hockey locker room. The man is sitting on a bench, sort of sprawled, while the woman is behind him, one hip cocked so far out that I think she may have hurt herself. Possibly that’s her butt, in which case her spine might now be out of alignment. (For more on women on book covers, check out these hilarious and insightful posts by author Jim C. Hines.)

The man is half dressed, and the most amusing thing about this for me is that he’s got on black and grey hockey socks that totally match the ones I wore on my last team. (Shout out to the Oceanside DLeague Predators!) He has a very European-action-star, close-cropped hair, kind of WW2 Aryan look to him, which is a bit creepy.

The title, Her Man Advantage, is not as clever as it wants to be. (A “man advantage” is certainly hockey term, for when your team is on the power play and therefore has one more player on the ice than the other team. But the phrasing here is awkward and also, what does it mean here? The heroine has one more man than the opposing team? That’s a lot of men. I’m no prude, but where would she find the time?) The cover also declares “Some guys don’t hold back….” which is a little more threatening sounding than I like my romance novels, personally. It also has a little target on the left of the cover that declares “Double overtime” which is a bit odd. Will this team be going to the playoffs and will the penultimate scene be of our hero scoring the winning goal in double overtime? (NHL games don’t go to double overtime except in playoffs/finals nowadays). Is this supposed to be a double entendre? Why is it on the cover of this book?

Bonus snark! While tooling around the web, procrastinating, I discovered a posted called "5 Awesomely Terrible Hockey Romance Novel Titles" and it includes Her Man Advantage! It's from the 2012 off season when sites like The Score had little-to-no hockey to talk about and thus hit on hockey romance novels. The other four on the list are not ones the FHL has covered before (one is called Body Check but it's a different one than the first book of this blog) but one never knows when the FHL might.

Anyway, like most short romance novels (149 pages for this one), Her Man Advantage starts in medias res. But before this post jumps in, let’s talk about the team for a moment, because I find this choice odd, too. It’s the Philadelphia Phantoms, albeit not the ones that actually existed.

The Philadelphia Phantoms of our reality were an actual team that played in the American Hockey League and were a farm team for the Philadelphia Flyers. (This is unusual—an NHL team having its AHL team in the same city.) The played from 1996 until 2009. (The team still exists. It moved to Glen Falls, NY and became the Adirondack Phantoms. Starting this fall, it will begin playing in my home-town area of Allentown, PA as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. I’m actually quite excited by this.)

This novel was published in 2012, after the real team’s move. Perhaps the author just liked the name and didn’t realize that the team didn’t fold but just moved? Further, the team in this novel is an NHL team. Unlike Body Check, the NHL gets referenced specifically, as does the Stanley Cup. (The hero’s best friend played for the “Boston NHL team” – apparently Harlequin was willing to pay for the rights to use “NHL” in this novel, but not “Bruins” or “Flyers” or anything else.

From what I’ve read so far, this novel is well-written and has pacing that is exponentially better than Play the Man’s. So these are good things. However it quickly veers from “unlikely” into “wildly improbable” to my mind. So this could be fun.