Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrators: Simon Dornet, Lance West
Length: 10 hours, 55 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Olly Järvinen is a closeted pro hockey player in the fictional NAHA, and he’s just been traded to Washington, D.C. after having a serious falling out on his previous team. A fellow player assaulted him after finding out he was gay. Olly’s been a wreck, and he’s sure his sexuality will be discovered again, ending his career. He can’t sleep, he’s so anxiety-stricken he hardly eats, and he’s constantly on the verge of vomiting. Olly’s deep social anxiety and depression have kept him from staying in peak shape, especially since his stereotypical hockey dad won’t let up on his form, his training, his skills, and the reason he quit his previous team. Olly’s been paired up with a rookie roommate in D.C., per his coach who is an ally. Unfortunately, Benji is Olly’s exact opposite.

Benji Bryzinski is a human golden retriever. He’s amazing at making friendships, and he’s absolutely unashamed about his joy over finally–FINALLY!–making a NAHA roster. He’s a former trailer park kid who’s risen through the ranks from juniors, college scholarships, and semi-pro developmental leagues, and now that he’s made it to the Big Show, he’s just never going to step one skate out of line. The coaches want him to try anything–anything!–to help him be a better player? Benji is Signed. Up. Even sharing an apartment with Olly is pretty awesome, because that guy has skills. If only he wasn’t such a mess personally–or in their apartment. Clean up a dish, man!

Olly and Benji are both fighting for playing time on the roster. When the coach makes it clear that Olly needs to fix his head to fix his game, he leans hard on Benji, who’s got a yoga hook up. And ideas about therapy. And a macrobiotic diet that other elite athletes swear by. It’s definitely a bromance, all their teammates see it. Olly’s spooked by the chirps players make about how close they are, but Benji is Olly’s lifeline in a very literal sense. He can’t help developing feelings for the big, amazing, sexy D-man. Besides, Benji’s cool with some off-ice cuddling and he’s never turned down the chance at multiple-partner sexytimes before; if his good buddy Olly’s willing to join him and a lady, well. Okay, yeah. That was a mistake…right?

This book was AWESOME. It had hockey–but like, real hockey with great insights about playing, players, and mentality. It had elite athletes who were real and damaged, with lots of family issues and reasons they aren’t having A-games every night. They struggle. They fight. They lie to each other. They hook up. They fall in love over the course of months and months of stress, support, success, and connection. It’s a wild ride, and both narrators do an awesome job of bringing Olly and Benji to life in the audiobook. I think Lance West was a great choice for Benji, as his voice is a warm hug–just like Benji liberally bestows. Simon Dornet was new to me, but he had the timbre that blended caution and anxiety perfectly to voice Olly’s parts.

I read a lot of sports romance, and I usually feel let down that the athleticism feels like a tack-on to the romance, a vehicle but not a focus. Not the case here. I was absolutely immersed in hockey from the start to the finish. And, the characters felt like real people with real problems that needed real work to resolve. The closeted-athlete issue was handled well, and with appropriate sensitivity. Benji’s realization that he’s maybe bisexual felt authentic and valid.

Do not expect coming out celebrations, but do expect love, support, and allyship. It’s a slow burn; both MCs are working on themselves for the first half, developing the friendship that becomes the launching point of the relationship. I was sad this book ended, as I’d have followed Olly and Benji into retirement. I highly recommend this story for readers who like slow burn, sports-based romance.