The Hottest Romances of the Season are All Happening on Ice

Books Features Romance
The Hottest Romances of the Season are All Happening on Ice

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that almost every occupation on the planet can be spun into a concept for a romance novel. This is a genre that thrives on giving its protagonists the sorts of jobs that most of its readers can only dream of. There’s a reason there are so many rom-com heroes who work as architects, magazine profilers, and matchmakers. Take any field of employment and the chances are you can mine it for trope-y shenanigans. And the world of sports has long been a favorite for romance writers and readers alike, thanks to its status as a hotbed of muscles, masculinity, and emotional crises. 

Sports romances have always been popular, although their scope is typically narrow in terms of the games being played: football (both American and otherwise), tennis, maybe some rugby players, and a runner or two. Nowadays, however, it seems as though the most dominant of the sports romance playing fields lie on ice, particularly in the realms of hockey and skating. Hockey’s popularity in this subgenre has seen a notable increase in recent years, with the burly aggressors of the game often meeting their delicate dancing counterparts in the middle of the rink.

 Writers like Elle Kennedy, Rachel Reid, Rachel Gibson, and Helena Hunting have found intense passions on the ice, sending hockey romances flying up the bestseller lists. Emily Rath’s Pucking Around, a reverse harem contemporary erotica, became a BookTok hit of 2023 despite being well over 700 pages long! The webcomic Check Please! inspired a plethora of new hockey fans. And this doesn’t even get into the glut of fanfiction about the various players of past and present you can find in certain corners of the internet.

Hockey romance is not alone on the ice, of course. Skating romances are also popular, and the crossover of the two sports makes for especially spicy chemistry. It’s seen as the ultimate case of opposites-attract: the delicacy of ice dancing versus the brutishness of hockey scrums. Hannah Grace’s Icebreaker brought this dynamic to the forefront and made her a BookTok sensation as well as a New York Times bestseller. If you love stories of rugged but stoic guys, team torment and dedication, and lots of puns involving pucks and scoring, this is for you! And it’s only getting more popular among lovers of the genre, both sports nerds and total novices.

Deanna Grey is an author of romance novels that focus on Black women falling in love. Her Mendell Hawks series, about a group of hockey players and their romantic shenanigans, was inspired by her move to Tampa, Florida, and the local enthusiasm for their home team, Tampa Lightning.

“There were banners for the players hanging all around the mall and billboards cheering on the team across the highway,” she said. “I started to become familiar with the faces of the players before I even knew much about the sport. And I thought they would make interesting romantic heroes because they were already heroes to their city. I didn’t know much about the sport before moving here, so I wasn’t a fan yet. The constant promotion hooked me though. I had to know why there was such an interest in a sport traditionally enjoyed in colder places – Florida isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of anything that happens on ice!”

 Hockey romances aren’t just for die-hard fans of the sport, either. Gray noted that “a large number of readers picking up hockey romances don’t have much experience watching the sport, So, I think part of the appeal is the feeling like this is a new world they’re getting to explore.” 

Part of the appeal of any great romance is the world-building, and for many, the tangled ecosystem of professional sports is as out-of-this-world as vampires or gargoyles! Grey also added that the proliferation of BookTok has introduced many non-sports fans to the creative and emotional possibilities of the field. 

“If you didn’t grow up in a family that watched sports or you didn’t play one, it’s easy to not understand why people become attached to their favorite teams,” she said. “Hockey players – like all other athletes – have stories that you get to see played out throughout a season. TikTok has allowed readers to build an emotional connection to those players. Romance doesn’t exist without emotion. The combination of the two makes sense.”

 Author Rachel Reid describes her novels as being “cute smut about hockey.” Her newest hockey romance, Time to Shine, about two players whose bromance turns to love, will be released on September 26. She notes that, amid the emotional depths of it all, hockey is just a damn fun sport. “It’s an exciting sport to watch and there’s a decent chance you’re going to see at least one actual fistfight during each game, so it does probably appeal to people who are looking for that traditionally macho energy from men. Personally, I was drawn to it as a kid because I was impressed by how tough NHL players were. I’m less enamored by that sort of thing now.”

Hockey is undoubtedly a sport with a brutishly tough reputation. You need to be physically forceful to play it and injuries are common. Romance loves itself an alpha hero with a bloody beating heart beneath the muscled exterior and safety padding, so it’s no wonder authors and readers flock to it. Sport is an industry weighed down by expectations of physical and mental impenetrability. On the surface, this can be highly appealing. Part of the draw of professional sports is in watching near-superhuman figures seem as though they can take on anything. The real-life consequences, of course, are far less alluring. A 2022 study from the University of British Columbia noted that many professional hockey players struggle with mental health issues, and find it difficult to reach out for help due to “cultural and systemic factors” and a “general culture of silence and suspicion around accessing help-seeking resources within ice hockey organizations.” Many hockey romances reflect this, delving into the high-pressure struggles of the sport and the culture surrounding it. 

Steph Driver, a writer for Broad Street Hockey, fully understands the appeal of the sport for romance fans. “I think hockey players really lend themselves to be fictionalized because they are very team focused and don’t like to have the spotlight on them, so we don’t know much about them as individuals compared to other sports,” she told Paste. “We know what we see on social media and that’s really it. They’re not celebrities, except for one or two of them, and they’re like the everyman. But they are big and strong and they hit people, and they are loyal.”

Hockey’s female fanbase is mighty, although Driver notes that the National Hockey League (NHL) “sincerely does not care to change the image that they are a very straight, white, male sport.” The League faced controversy recently when they banned Pride-themed jerseys during warmup, which faced immense pushback from fans and players alike. Hockey has long been viewed as, to put it mildly, a bro sport, although its reputation is often far darker than such a glib descriptor suggests.

 The sport has also been forced under a harsh spotlight after Hockey Canada—the governing body for the sport of ice hockey in Canada—was revealed to have paid settlements to a woman who alleged that she was the victim of a sexual assault perpetrated by multiple members of the country’s junior team. Misogyny in ice hockey is so prevalent that there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to its dark history, dating way back to the late 1800s. The lack of racial diversity in hockey has also long been an elephant in the room for sporting bodies. A 2022 documentary Black Ice explored the lingering history of anti-black racism in hockey. It is, like many sports, a field mired in bigotry and disheartening inaction toward rectifying it.

While hockey romances have often acted as a refreshing contrast to this reality, the category is not short of its own biases. The subgenre is notoriously very white, notably more so than other sports romances like American football. This is in part a reflection of the game but also a lack of commitment and imagination on the part of readers and writers alike. If you can imagine sexy monsters or apocalyptic danger, why not some non-white hockey heroes? As Grey said, “Literature can be used in a million different ways, one of which is showing people how our world doesn’t have to stay the same.”

 The 2023 NHL hockey season will kick off in October, with the Las Vegas Golden Knights acting as the defending champions. There are many stories to be told in this sport, and hockey romances are but one way to add a new and oft-untold shade to the field. Even the most seemingly macho things can be given a happy-ever-after. Girls like sports too!


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin