“Misha’s words were all stolen away, taken from him by Max Ashford’s pretty eyes and his easy smile – all the things he was giving to Misha that Misha did not deserve. All the things he wanted that he couldn’t have.”
In a word: Read the thing. Another winner, of course. I still love this series, and this was another wonderful addition to it. In a change of pace from the other books in the series, the romantic couple aren’t hockey players, but former hockey players who are now hockey coaches. Max and Misha are more or less strangers who are forever tied to each other because of one event that changed both of their lives forever. Misha accidentally caused Max an injury that ended his professional hockey career, and he’s never really gotten over it. Max, however, has moved on with his life and is now happy to have a chance to coach the game he loves. The two men had never expected to see each other again, so of course it’s no surprise (to us) that they do and that their eventual reactions to each other is basically ‘Oh no, he’s hot’. They’re hired to coach the Spartanburg Spitfires because the team’s manager thinks that the potential drama will be good for ticket sales. There ends up being no drama, instead there’s a romance and a journey of self-forgiveness and sometimes there’s hockey. There’s also plenty of Isaac Drake, which I especially enjoyed because I already read Empty Net, which is about him, and liked him in that.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains mentions of homophobia and homophobic language and attempted blackmail.
The Series: This is the third installment of the Scoring Chances series, and the first book that’s about the romance between two hockey coaches instead of two hockey players. Each book in the series is a standalone story, but they all take place in the same universe and in order. Like the events of this book definitely take place after the events of the last book, and even reference them, but the main plots don’t have much to do with each other. The characters from the previous novels are still in the background of other novels and their stories are technically still moving forward. Like, here, Riley and Ethan from the previous book show up and are still together and their interactions are the same as in the last book but being seen through someone else’s eyes. Also Bennett Halley from the last book has become captain for the Sea Storm and is still dating Riley’s sister. There’s a brief vague mention of Ryan and Zoe, via Isaac, but nothing about Lane and Jared. I’m glad I’m reading the books in order now so I understand all these Easter eggs and references. It kinda makes me want to read Empty Net again to see what I missed the first time around.
The Couple: I first read about Max Ashford and Misha Samarin in Empty Net, which is the book after this in the series. In that book they’re already basically an old married couple and are mostly side characters, Power Play is the book where their story starts. Max and Misha first really crossed paths on the ice, Max was with the Habs and Misha was with the Bruins. During the game Misha tackled (? Or whatever the term is) Max to get at the puck and that resulted in an injury that basically ended Max’s professional hockey career. Max never played again, and Misha ended up getting suspended and then decided to retire because of the guilt. Five years later they’re both hired to coach the Spartanburg Spitfires team. It’s a bit awkward. These two men are total opposites, both in their personalities and their coaching style. Max is a more laid-back coach. He’s intelligent, but not really book-smart, and a generally optimistic guy. He was three years into his NHL career when he was injured, but is currently happy to be coaching. He doesn’t tend to dwell on things, and doesn’t really let things get him down. Before the accident he also had a fiancée but she left him when she realized that he wouldn’t be able to play pro anymore. He dealt with that by going on their planned honeymoon solo and spent his time there discovering his bisexuality by blowing most of the bartenders at the resort. As you do. That’s in contrast to Misha, who always knew that he was gay. Misha grew up in Russia, where being gay was (and still is, I think) illegal, so his relationship with his sexuality is a bit strained. A lot of things about Misha are a bit strained. Where Max is generally open and outgoing and happy, Misha is more closed-off and stressed and taciturn. It reflects their different coaching styles, where Max is considered the friendlier coach while Misha is more serious. Misha’s backstory is pretty dark, and it’s very obvious that it’s still affecting him even now. Max and Misha’s romantic relationship is a bit hard for them to navigate, both because Max has never been with a man before and Misha has never had a relationship before this (from what I understand) and it’s hard for him to open up to others. They do eventually figure things out, and they are really good together. I don’t really feel like Max had much of a personal journey, maybe a bit of one with him coming out as bi and really learning what that means. Especially compared to Misha’s journey, wherein he learns to open up to others and to forgive himself for things that happened that were beyond his control. The two of them at the start of this book weren’t the two men I saw in Empty Net, but they became those two men over the course of the story. Although I will say that I was surprised when I learned their ages. When I read Empty Net I thought they were both in their early to mid-thirties, but it turns out that Max is just under 30 and Misha is 40. So that’s still a bit different from the other romances in the series where all the other guys are mostly in their early 20s (except for Jared, I guess, who was 32).
The Goalie: Short, angry, openly gay, lip pierced, and blue haired Isaac Drake makes his first significant debut in this book (he had a mention in Save of the Game). He’s the goalie and captain of the Spartanburg Spitfires, and probably one of the best (and angriest) players on the team. I first got to know and love Isaac when I read Empty Net, but I always felt that his personal journey had already been told before that book. I was right there, this is the book where we first get to know Isaac. Isaac does get his own subplot here, but he’s still just a side character, so we don’t get that much detail. But these events were referenced in Empty Net, so I’m glad we did get these details and we got to see how his father/son-type relationship with Misha came about. We find out a bit about Isaac’s past, and it’s something that Misha uses to relate to him better because he’s experienced some of the same things. Another thing about Isaac is that we see his first interactions with Laurent St Savoy, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have the reaction I was supposed to have to him. Laurent definitely does nothing to endear himself to the readers when he shows up, there’s pretty much nothing redeemable in his behavior here. The thing is, though, that I read Empty Net first, so I knew going in what Laurent’s deal was, so I didn’t feel as angry as I should have at what happened. Though there are some slight hints at the end of the book that let us know that we’re probably going to be seeing more of Laurent in the future (which, of course, we are).
The Side Characters: Most of the focus of the story is on Max and Misha and their relationship, and a bit about Isaac Drake, but there’s also an ensemble cast of other players hanging around. The biggest, of course, is Jack Belsey, the Spitfires’ manager/owner/thing. Belsey is really a piece of work, also an arsehole. He originally hired both Max and Misha to be coaches on the team because he thought that their history would lead to drama that would lead to more ticket sales. He’s a slimy, oily, dickwad, but I guess at the end of the day there are worse people out there. I still never warmed up to him though. There’s also Max’s family, who we have a few scenes with when they’re around for various holidays. (Misha’s family is still in Russia and he has no contact with them, so they don’t show up at all.) Max has his parents and his older brother Scott and his family, and they’re all a great bunch. They’re a lot like Max in how friendly and open they are, and they barely even bat an eye when Max comes out to them. They’re also fond of Misha right away and, like Max, have no hard feelings about the accident five years earlier. All the other side characters are hockey players. We first meet Hux and Murph, two good friends of Isaac’s, here, but we won’t really get to know them until the next book (and I’m still not entirely sure that they’re both straight). But we do see in this book how close they are to Isaac and how much they care about him. There’s also a very minor subplot in which one of the team members is homophobic towards Isaac and how he does through his own little journey about it. And that would be Jakob, one of four on the team, and the only one who gets called by his first name because Max can’t pronounce his surname.
The Game: Like the previous books in the series, most of the hockey stuff is glossed over in favour of relationship and character development. Though I will say that I found that this book had more descriptive hockey games than the other books did, though I don’t really think that’s saying much. And that’s probably because one of the subplots was the improvement of the Spartanburg Spitfires team, so proof of that had to be shown. There’s a Very Important Game late in the book and that one is mostly delivered in a play-by-play like fashion. Any other games are very vaguely described, and only events that contribute to character development are shown in any real detail. That was fine with me because I don’t care much for sports, especially descriptions of games. I was more interested in what the characters were going through, which did come up a few times, so that was good.
The Sex: So the first thing I noticed regarding the sex scenes is that there is a lot of dick sucking going on. That seems to be Max and Misha’s most popular sexual activity to do together. Their relationship was mostly only sexual when they started out, and it started out with blowjobs because that was the only same-sex sexual act that Max had ever done. His vacation to Mexico was quite a revelation to him in that he found out that he actually really enjoyed sucking dick. It’s something that Misha also enjoys so it’s something they do a lot of first. They do get to anal sex eventually, but it’s something they have to work up to. Misha’s relationship with sex is a rocky one, and it isn’t really all that healthy, so his sexual relationship with Max is also a way for him to learn to love and enjoy sex. Especially when it came to anal sex, doing that with Max was way different to what he’s been used to for the past few decades. There are a few scenes throughout the book, and they’re all varying degrees of emotional and lighthearted fun.
The Writing: I loved the writing in this book, just like I loved the writing in the other books in the series. I did notice that in this book (and maybe it’s like this in all the books but I’m only noticing it now because I read two of the books back to back) that there’s a lot of time skips in the story. There was a lot of summarizing going on to pass the time in between significant scenes. Which was fine because a lot of this story was mostly character driven anyway. Even when nothing was really going on I was never bored because the writing is pretty funny and the characters are endearing. I also enjoyed Isaac Drake’s first significant appearance in the series, because I really came to like him when I was reading Empty Net. There’s really nothing else I can say about the writing that I haven’t already said about the other books in the series. I know when I read one of these books that I’m gonna be reading some quality writing with some good humour and real emotions and endearing characters.
[Power Play was published May 9, 2016, by Dreamspinner Press; it is available both in print and as an ebook]