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.