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.