This is the fourth book in Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series and is a heavy, emotionally challenging and entertaining sports romance.
Isaac Drake, team captain and goalie for the Spartanburg Spitfires, has just learned Laurent St. Savoy has been traded to the Spitfires as the back-up goalie for the coming season. Isaac is an openly gay player on a team coached by a gay couple (it works – I promise!) and the last time he faced Laurent on the ice, St. Savoy was spitting on Drake and calling him a fag. The Spitfires ultimately lost the series but much of their anger about the ugliness of the series (and the loss) is directed at Laurent and his father, Denis St. Savoy, coach of the Ravens.
As Empty Net unfolds, we discover Laurent isn’t quite the villain he (and everyone around him) believes himself to be. Raised by a cruel and abusive father to believe the worst about himself and everyone else around him, Laurent copes with his lack of social skills by lashing out at anyone and everyone who approaches him – regardless of their intent. When Isaac unexpectedly returns to the locker room one night and discovers Laurent in the shower sobbing with whip marks on his back, he reaches out to him and begins to understand the demons that drive Laurent’s behavior on and off the ice. It’s a slow and painful process to gain Laurent’s trust and friendship but Isaac perseveres. Along the way the two fall in love – and with Isaac’s love and support and the help of a therapist, Laurent begins to free himself from his tortured past.
One of my favorite aspects of this series is how unique each story is. Though they’re all linked by hockey, the characters and relationships truly allow each to stand alone – though in this book it’s helpful to know more about the coaches who were featured in book 3, Power Play. If I have a criticism, it’s that in Empty Net as in books 2 & 3, characters seem to discover their homosexuality/bi-sexuality/demisexuality (look it up!) only after falling for a specific man. I don’t think attraction to the same sex is something that surprises a man in his twenties (the average age of the men in this series) – and it bothered me. That criticism aside, Empty Net is an excellent addition to this charming sports romance series.