Desert Isle Keeper
Thrown Off the Ice
When Thrown Off the Ice first appeared in my GoodReads feed, the cover caught my eye, but I kept scrolling. When it kept appearing, day after day, I finally clicked through and read the blurb. It didn’t tell me much:
Mike knew he was making a mistake when he let the rookie climb into bed with him. He just didn’t know it’d be a mistake that would follow him for the rest of his life.
Since $5.99 is a bit more than I like to spend on a contemporary romance, I decided to pass. But it kept appearing, accompanied by rave reviews, and I finally broke down and bought it. Friends, I wasn’t prepared for this book. Yes, it’s a sports romance set in the world of hockey. But it’s nothing like other books in the genre. I can’t say I loved it while I was reading it – the story is alternately sweet and challenging and frustrating – but that ending? Wow. Six months later and I’m still blown away. Raw and painful, mesmerizing and beautiful… Thrown Off the Ice might be the best book I read this year.
Mike is a veteran hockey player and enforcer for a fictional NHL team, nearing the end of his career. (If you aren’t super familiar with hockey, enforcers use their size – and fists, when necessary – to deter opponents from messing with their teammates, especially marquis players). When Thrown Off the Ice begins, he’s become a reluctant mentor of sorts to a young and talented new player on the team, Liam. Mike, who mostly keeps to himself and likes it that way, isn’t sure why Liam is so eager to spend time with him, and he mostly just tolerates Liam’s attention. His apparent ambivalence doesn’t deter the rookie; in fact, it only seems to encourage him. It isn’t long before Liam begins to awkwardly flirt with him, whining when Mike appears immune to his charms.
Mike isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with a young and immature teammate. He’s kept his own bisexuality under wraps for years, and he not-so-subtly tries to signal Liam to do the same. But Liam is relentless, and despite Mike’s protestations to the contrary, he’s attracted to him. He tells Liam to keep away and find someone else, but his half-hearted attempts to rebuff Liam fail. Spectacularly.
Told almost exclusively in Mike’s limited third person, present tense PoV (which took me several chapters to get used to), Thrown Off the Ice chronicles the relationship between Mike and Liam from that first shared season until the novel concludes more than a dozen years later. Surprising and funny and ridiculous and frustrating and devastating in equal measure, Thrown Off the Ice is engrossing from start to finish. What starts out as a purely physical relationship between the seasoned, experienced, much older Mike, and his eager, curious and passionate young lover Liam, eventually becomes… ahem. I can’t say. As their relationship evolves, via Mike’s PoV, we watch Liam’s career in the NHL take off, and Mike’s career… sorry, I can’t tell you that either. But trust me, whatever you’re guessing, you’re probably wrong.
As many of my friends discovered when they tried to review Thrown Off the Ice, it’s hard to talk about without spilling its secrets. The style of narrative is challenging at the beginning, but makes more and more sense as the novel progresses. I hoped for chapters from Liam’s wildly different PoV, but the author saves his voice for the last chapter – and wow, are his words powerful. If you’re a hockey fan, you may guess where the story is going late in the second half (I did), but I was still completely caught off guard by the ending, which puts this book outside of traditional romance. (If you are looking for a traditional HEA, you will not find it here.) Friends, I cried; I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. Suffice it to say, the story doesn’t follow predictable paths, and it will put you through the wringer and absolutely wreck you before it ends. I wish there was more I could tell you that might convince you to read it – but you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you it’s worth all the accolades and criticisms you might have already heard.
I loved and hated Thrown Off the Ice, and it’s absolutely one of the best sports romance novels I’ve ever read. Heartbreaking, sexy, funny and surprising – unforgettable. And that ending? Mind. Blown.