Title: Home Ice
Author: Kate Sherwood
Cover Artist: Dar Albert
Publisher: Self Published
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Sports
Length: novella/67 PDF pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: In the tough world of semi professional hockey, one level below the NHL, two friends with benefits re-connect after 15 years, but would it be the end of the line for them and the end of a career for one protagonist?
When they were young men playing on the same hockey team, the heat between Jason and Mike had been almost enough to melt the ice they were skating on. But Mike went off to be a star in the NHL and Jason stayed behind to start his life as the dedicated, deeply closeted coach of the town’s junior hockey team.
Now Mike is back in town and Jason finds that their passion burns as hot as ever. But they’re both still in the closet, and when Jason is threatened with exposure, he freezes. The flames of desire can’t melt Jason’s fears but maybe, just maybe, the warmth of love will thaw the ice.
I picked up this book because there are very few M/M stories about hockey and especially about Canadian based teams. I’m so glad I did because the author did a great job on the sport as well as the characters, and if you’re a hockey fan, even if you’re not Canadian, you should run, not walk to pick up Home Ice as you might inhale this story like I did.
While I’m not a huge fan of hockey because it’s probably the most violent sport next to boxing, I love sports and books about sports so I thought I would give Home Ice a whirl. As the blurb says, Jason and Mike had been friends with benefits a decade and a half ago then Mike was drafted by an NHL team while Jason decided to finish his degree first and they lost contact with each other as Mike got married and Jason stayed in his small town. When Mike retired from the NHL 15 years later and moved back home Jason wasn’t looking forward to seeing him again since their careers had taken different paths. Mike had been a star in the NHL while Jason had suffered a knee injury and never made it to the majors. During their playing days Mike and Jason, in addition to being sex buddies, were the stars on their junior hockey team and they could read each other’s minds on the ice – when they skated it was like poetry in motion, but now those times were over.
After graduating from university Jason became the head coach of the Wolverines in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and his team was well positioned to make the playoffs this year, so having Mike back was a distraction he could ill afford. It seemed that Mike had returned after his divorce because his daughter was autistic and he felt that coming home to Pine Bay in Northern Ontario would provide a nurturing environment for her. Then Jason found out that the current General Manager of the team was retiring and the owners were considering offering Mike the position of GM, which would make him Jason’s boss.
Jason was not out and played by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of the game. People suspected he was gay but as long as he was on the down low and the team kept winning no one made an issue of his sexual orientation, and he certainly wasn’t going to out himself after fifteen years. . Now that Mike was back the old attraction reared its head and it wasn’t long before they rekindled their old “friends with benefits” relationship, but Jason had a lot more to lose than Mike because his job was on the line if his sexual orientation were revealed. However they couldn’t stay away from each other and a several days later they had sex in Jason’s office and then at his home. Soon it became a regular thing for Mike to sneak into Jason’s house where he would spend the night, and weeks later they were in a committed relationship without realizing it and neither one used the “L” word. It was obvious they were in love but there were too many issues on the table.
Then something happened which demonstrated how vulnerable Jason was as the coach of the Wolverines. Conner, a player on the team was having problems with his game and Jason took him into his office to talk to him. He confessed that he was gay and his father had caught him with another teenager. Jason counseled him and as they were leaving his office he put his arm around Conner to show that he was there for him, but when they opened the door Conner’s father and other team officials were standing outside. Conner’s father decided that Jason was a pedophile and filed charges with the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) that he molested his son. Not only wasn’t Jason going to be around at a crucial time for the team since he was suspended from his job, but he could not reveal why Conner was in his office and he could go to jail if he were found guilty. So in order to protect Mike Jason made the unilateral decision to break off all ties with him and didn’t give him the opportunity to stand by him.
What I loved about this book was the small town hockey atmosphere and the competitiveness on the ice. When Mike and Jason skated a few days after his return, the way they moved was just like when they were in the OHL in terms of the way they passed the puck to each other, an intricate dance as they lit up the ice. They were just as fiercely competitive but age and injuries required that their game, although still very physical, couldn’t be as bruising as in the old days and possibly re-injure Jason who needed to skate if he wanted to keep his job.
The politics of the game and the country were very much in play in Home Ice. Although Canada is liberal about gay rights in general and most people in the country are hockey mad, the line is drawn at mixing the two. There is no “out” gay player still playing in the NHL although everyone knows they exist, like in every other Major League sport, but no player steps up or out because they’re afraid of losing their jobs and endorsements. Home Ice showed that in an idealistic world all it takes is one person to step forward and show that maybe it’s not just about endorsements, ice time, or trades but about the game of hockey and the players.
It was obvious that the Kate Sherwood knows a lot about the intricacies of the game or had expert help because the physicality of the game and the players came through loud and clear, as well as the strategies for building a successful team. This was a believable story on almost all levels even though it was so short. My one disappointment was that there was no resolution of the situation between Mike the GM and Jason the team coach. However I guess the author ran out of word count. 🙁
If you like sports, and hockey in particular, you can’t afford to miss Home Ice, and if you’re Canadian and live in Ontario you will recognize a few names of places as well as the small town hockey atmosphere with parents who try to live through their kids by being bullies in their fierce desire to be the father or mother of an NHL star.
The only negative about Home Ice is the price I paid for a novella that’s only 66 PDF pages and 31K words. I think that Ellora’s Cave may be the most expensive epublisher around but the story made up for the cost, to me anyway.