A reader’s perspective on female hockey real and imagined
It’s a tradition here to be glued to one of our national sports networks and watch the extensive coverage between Boxing Day and early January of the World Junior (U20) Hockey Championships (hmmm, no qualifier so by default it’s of course the male side of the house). There are some great hockey matches and compared to the NHL the emotion and potential for anything to happen make the tournament well worth watching. The same can be said for women’s hockey and as a result this year there was some additional background drama in Canada in the form of some very vocal and written protests that went viral regarding the lack of coverage of the Women’s U18 Hockey Championships. These Women’s U18 championships in Slovakia with virtually no coverage – even accessible decent quality streaming were being held pretty much a stone’s throw away from the U20 Championships in the Czech Republic.
What’s neat about the reaction is that it shows this state of affairs is no longer acceptable to us, we aren’t quiet about it and demand better. The sports network got a lot of flack for not bothering to send a media truck down the road to at least cover the big matches (that is to say Canada’s games) and the governing federation had to step up to provide a better quality broadcast of the remaining games.
It was in Ottawa in 1990 that the first IIHF Women’s World Championships were held. I can’t even begin to explain how huge this was for female hockey – despite the garish neon pink Canadian jerseys that became a huge marketing success. Having played and/or coached minor female hockey for over forty years I wish I had a quarter for every time someone was amazed that there were female hockey players and leagues and that, “wow” BTW they were dedicated, serious and skilled too. Obviously much progress has been made yet it is so disappointing to see that some of the world’s best female hockey players felt the need to boycott the one remaining women’s league to bring attention to the lack of support. In brief, there were two women’s pro leagues in North America when one folded last spring a number of the players decided to boycott the other league to pressure for a single sustainable league (like the WNBA) that would allow them to make a decent living. In the meantime these outstanding players are keeping fit and in game shape by playing for their national teams, pickup hockey and/or participating in the Dream Gap Tour, which recently played matches to good sized enthusiastic crowds in Toronto.
Well I could probably go on ad nauseam about the evolution of women’s hockey since the 1970’s as well as the cultural impacts and social buzz out there – but I won’t (you’re welcome :). Now that I’m no longer actively involved in the sport in addition to watching the too infrequent women’s championships, tournaments and Olympics, I am keen to feed my hockey addiction with hockey stories. Unfortunately there are not nearly as many as you would find in the mainstream market and I think I’ve found and read all seven of them – if you know of any others please let us know in the comments. Fingers crossed we’ll see more in the near future as five of the seven I’ve come across were released in the last two years. You don’t need to know a lot about hockey to enjoy them – and a big thumbs-up to all the authors that have written these books. None of them (except perhaps Richardson) has professed any background in the sport beyond a love of the game and obvious research skills.
The first hockey related story to come across my radar is Thin Ice (2012) by Bryce Taylor. Although the first half was unlikely to really happen it was intriguing and sweet until it wasn’t. There is much sadness and angst and after the “event” there is a sixteen-year gap before we meet up with Taylor again. If you are willing to put up with less than stellar editing and formatting this was a decent story/romance.
Delay of Game (2017) from Tracey Richardson features Niki Hartling and Eva Caruso. They haven’t competed against each other as players in twelve years and now meet up again in the upcoming Olympics with Niki coaching Team Canada and Eva on her last legs as a veteran player for the USA. Some wonderful suspenseful hockey scenes with a touch of intrigue, along with a second chance romance keep this story moving. With at least three USA/Canada rival player couples that I know of out there seeing this fictional one in print added to the enjoyment. Hockey fan or not this hockey-themed romance doesn’t disappoint.
Touch (2018) by Kris Bryant is actually the first book I’d ever read by Bryant and (surprise) got my attention because one of the two main characters is a professional female hockey player. As is Bryant’s tendency this is written from first person POV and here we take this journey with physiotherapist Haley Sims. Haley only works with children since in her experience athletes are way too high maintenance but agrees to take on 28 year old Elizabeth Stone (“Stone”) as a patient as a favor to her boss. Stone initially has a chip on her shoulder and their first scene is chock full of conflict and a couple of great one-liners. It’s hot irresistible chemistry at first touch along with a bit of angst along the way. Combine this with some realistic hockey scenes and insight into the life of a semi-professional athlete and this was a winner.
PJ Trebelhom’s On The Fly (2018) and its sequel Face Off (2019) both qualify in their own right as light enjoyable sports romances. The hockey scenes are non-hockey reader friendly – pretty fun actually, but still satisfied my hockey world craving. In On the Fly we meet Courtney (“Court”) Abbot, an Olympian class with a gold medal to her credit approaching the end of her shelf life as a player in a semi-pro women’s ice hockey league. Like pretty much all female hockey players although playing in the NHL was a career goal she has settled into a life juggling hockey and a full-time job to pay the bills. Chronically single she has no interest in serious dating until Lana serves up some serious flirting. I loved the chemistry between Lana, a musician in town for a few months to help pitch in at the family business. The supporting characters including Lana’s son a hockey player in his own right work well and keep things moving. We are also introduced to Court’s best friend and line-mate Savannah who is one of the main characters in the follow-up novel Face Off. Savannah is a bit of a player with no time between hockey and being a veterinarian for a serious relationship to the chagrin of her two moms. We’ve got the fake relationship trope in this one along with some angst, nice chemistry and hockey scenery.
Breaking the Ice (Sophie Fournier Book 1) released in 2019 and written by K.R. Collins came highly recommended and did not disappoint – and I don’t think it will unless you are set on a romance. Sophie has been playing with the boys her entire life and after a stellar four years at a scholastic hockey academy is drafted last in the NHL draft. There’s a reason for this but it just makes her that much more determined to prove that she is the best player of the lot. Breaking the Ice and the sequel contain some of the most detailed and accurate hockey scenes (both on and off the ice) I’ve come across outside of non-fiction. Of note, unfortunately Sophie’s father is not an exception and the harassment and old boys club is not exaggerated. On the other hand the good guys and camaraderie are also very real. I found the locker scenes and on-ice antics pretty close to reality from my limited and now dated experience as the only female goaltender in a recreational men’s hockey league (and in case you are wondering – unlike Sophie I had my own dressing room if the rink was relatively modern or worked something out with the referees). It can be lonely and we see glimpses of that in the novel. Collins followed book one in the series up with a second book Sophomore Surge that continues Sophie’s story through season two with her professional team. Still no romance or romantic interests yet but there are hints of things to come. So far I’m okay with the lack of romantic interests, but I am hopeful something develops in book three as two other female professional hockey players are introduced in book two.
A few fun scenes in both of the books have Sophie representing her team at the NHL All-Star game and festivities. The skills competitions are an area where female hockey players can compete on an equal playing field. Although the NHL All-Star Game is usually a bust and something I pass on – this year I’ll be checking out the skills competitions, as some USA and Canadian female hockey players will be competing alongside the NHL players.