Can a woman play professional hockey with the men?
Neither diminutive nor dainty, Ekaterina aims to prove she can. She just needs the establishment to see past its preconceptions and give her the chance. The longer and harder she fights, a strange thing starts to happen. Her cheering section expands beyond her immediate family and keeps growing.
Coming soon: the print edition of the eBook.
In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt from Breakaway
Boy, had she missed someone.
There was one other girl, Mugabe, maybe twenty with ebony skin and close shorn hair, who probably stood 6’1” without the skates but leaner than Ekaterina. She looked more at ease than almost anyone else there, and Ekaterina soon saw why. She was good. Maybe not as good, Ekaterina told herself, but Ekaterina added Mugabe to her private mental roster of who would make the team.
But Mugabe wasn’t the only one Ekaterina had missed.
Another girl had to be at least 6’9” if not taller. She was the biggest woman Ekaterina had ever seen, not just tall but strapping, broad shouldered and muscular. A thick dark braid hanging down her back, she had keen gray eyes that looked down on everyone, literally and figuratively. She glided across the ice as if she owned it. No, as if she were queen of it. Her black and blue jersey said Hernandez on the back and had a stylized golden “P” on the front. Ekaterina wished her brothers were there to see a woman player taller than they were.
Then again, her brothers didn’t have anything to worry about, Ekaterina thought as the morning wore on.
Neither did anyone else trying out for the women’s team.
Someone said Hernandez played for the University of Alaska Prospectors. Ekaterina supposed she could see why. Hernandez didn’t fall all over the ice, but overall her skills looked pretty average. Except for intimidating the other players. She wasn’t even nasty or a bully about it. She didn’t have to be. Over a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than most of the other women on the ice, all Hernandez had to do was stand there.
Ryan and Navarro began running some faceoff drills.
Taking her turn to sit in the stands and watch, Ekaterina played close attention as Hernandez and Mugabe faced off. Hernandez had one technique. Even if Mugabe won the draw, Hernandez simply knocked her off the puck. It wasn’t slick—and it came close to being a body check—but it was effective and Mugabe was growing frustrated. Hernandez used her long reach to keep the puck but sometimes it was tentative on her stick.
The longer they practiced against each other, the wiser Mugabe got to Hernandez’s system. Mugabe found ways to clear the puck then beat the other woman to it. After that, Hernandez was the one getting frustrated.
Oh, yes, Ekaterina watched Hernandez and Mugabe very closely.
Ryan sent Mugabe off and called Ekaterina on. Putting her helmet back on, Ekaterina jumped onto the ice and joined Hernandez in the circle. The look Hernandez gave her was as cold as the ice surface beneath their blades.
Eyes narrowing, Ekaterina returned the look. Her game face was the equal of anyone else’s.
In the corner of her vision, Ekaterina saw Navarro stop and watch as well. All eyes were on them.
Ryan dropped the puck, Ekaterina claimed it, and darted under the other woman’s arm instead of trying to power around her. She heard a faint growl deep in Hernandez’s throat. Next time she did the same thing in the other direction. Hernandez’s scowl grew more fierce. Ekaterina kept her game face on.
No one psyched her out. No one. She practiced with her brothers and they were in the NHL. She could handle this.
A few times Hernandez tried to run her over. Ekaterina did not respond with brute force, instead always angling out of the way even while she kept control of the puck. She avoided a few trips as well. Hernandez’s eyes were such narrow slits that Ekaterina wondered if she could still see out of them.
Ekaterina was starting to feel some bruises, not that she minded—too much. She was used to it. Ekaterina could tell the moment Hernandez’s irritation peaked and she started trying to knock Ekaterina off her feet rather than trying to win the puck. The battering got worse.
So the next time Ryan dropped the puck, Ekaterina dug in a skate and surged forward with all her might, driving her shoulder smack into Hernandez’s chest. It was more football block than shoulder check—thank you, Eric and pals!—but it had the desired effect. Ekaterina was every bit as strong as she looked and could muster plenty of raw power when she wanted to. Hernandez went flying backwards, landing on her butt and sliding across the ice.
Ekaterina thought Hernandez was going to leap up and charge her. But, the ferocious look in Hernandez’s eyes suddenly turned cheery and Hernandez burst out laughing. “You bitch, you’re not allowed to check!”
Taken aback at the reaction, Ekaterina recovered from the surprise then shrugged. “You had it coming,” she said, chuckling a little as in spite of herself she caught the other woman’s good humor. She skated over and offered a hand up, which Hernandez accepted.
Ryan shot Ekaterina a look. “No more slams,” she ordered.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Ekaterina knew Coach Ryan meant it, but she also saw the twinkle in the woman’s eye before the coach turned away, calling Mugabe onto the ice and telling Hernandez to take a seat.