People who routinely read my PuckBuddy’s posts know that the Red Wings are my primary team. The team I root for no matter what. The team I’ve been a fan of for nearly forty years and will forever more. However, I also have major love for the Penguins that goes back to the mid-80s.
So why is my debut novel, Hat Trick, set outside Pittsburgh rather than somewhere near Detroit? The primary reason had to do with where Simon and Alex, the two high school seniors in love at the heart of Hat Trick, want to go to college. Simon has a deep desire to get far away from home. Since I’m a fan of Wolverines hockey, it made sense for Michigan to be the target school.
I definitely needed the guys near an NHL team I loved. What makes a better date than a hockey game? (As a PuckBuddys exclusive, you can check out a Hat Trick excerpt featuring their Penguins game date at the bottom of this post.) Having them near a major city was a plus too, not only to go to the game, but to do a few other things.
One of the trips Simon and Alex take is one that I particularly loved writing. The guys get a visit from some players from the Pittsburgh Gay Hockey Association. The Pittsburgh guys invite Simon and Alex to scrimmage with them.
Back when I first wrote those scenes, 2006-07, there was no such thing in Pittsburgh. Happily in March 2012, Mike and Adam got Pittsburgh Gay Hockey off the ground and players took the ice together for the first time. Suddenly the group in the book existed in reality and that was great. I’ve had the privilege to play with the guys from Pittsburgh a couple of times and they are awesome.
Finally, the Simon and his friends needed to be in the North so they could have a pond to play on. The pond helps illustrate how close the seniors on the hockey team are. They’ve played pond hockey for years and, as soon as it’s cold enough they are out there getting it ready for the season.
The way high school hockey works in Pennsylvania was appealing for the story too. For state championships, the state is divided into two and one side plays for the Penguins Cup and the other for the Flyers Cup. It makes the contest all the more impressive that you get a cup and then go on to play for the state championship title.
Now you’ve got the insight on why Pittsburgh.
If you want to read the rest, please pick up a copy of Hat Trick. It’s available from several online retailers in both ebook and paperback. You can learn more about the book at HatTrickNovel.com. Also, for each copy sold, I’m donating one dollar to You Can Play so they keep doing the important work they do.
And now, here’s the Hat Trick excerpt:
“Okay, I get we’re headed towards Pittsburgh. When are you going to tell me what we’re doing?”
Alex clearly planned something elaborate for this date. All he said I needed to do to prepare was to wear something comfortable, but mildly dressy. I went for black jeans and a dark beige sweater with my letter jacket over the top. Alex wore dark blue jeans, a maroon sweater, and his letter jacket. We looked good together.
It was early, too. If I judged right, we’d be in Pittsburgh a little after six, if that was where we were going. There were plenty of towns between Dawson and there. Of course, we might be going past Pittsburgh, too.
Alex took one hand off the wheel and wrapped it around mine, resting our hands on my leg.
“Patience. The night’s planned and I think you’re going to like it.”
It was usually on me to plan with Tricia, so it was nice that someone else made the plan. I so badly wanted to know what was going on. I also knew it meant a lot to him to throw this surprise for me.
Once we crossed the Pittsburgh city limits, I started asking questions again.
“Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what’s up? Maybe I need to prepare or something?”
“Prepare what? You’re sitting in a car, silly. Besides, do you think I’d let you go into something unprepared?”
“No. Of course not.”
He was right. I knew he’d take care of me. I scanned the highway signs for clues, but there were too many options.
“Have I mentioned I’m not a big fan of surprises?”
“I’ve heard something about that, yes.” He shot me a wicked grin as he exited the highway. “But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up the secret.”
I punched him on the shoulder.
“We’ll see if you still feel that way when we’re done.”
As if on cue, we pulled into a garage that serviced the Consol Energy Center.
“Oh man, are we going where I think we’re going?” I asked, the excitement in my voice unmistakable.
Alex reached inside his jacket and handed over a small envelope.
“Depends on where you think we’re going.”
In the envelope were two tickets for ridiculously good seats to the Penguins/Rangers game that was starting at seven.
“Oh my God! Do you know how good these seats are?” I was practically screaming in the car.
“Yeah. My dad gets them for clients, and for me and him sometimes. I asked him if he could swing a pair for a Saturday and he got these quicker than I expected.”
“This has to be the coolest date ever.”
Once he had the car parked, I leaned over, turned his head towards me, and kissed him. I didn’t care if anyone saw.
“Thank you,” I said.
As we walked into the arena, I took in everything. It was incredible to see so many food options and kiosks to buy Pens stuff. I’d never been to a game in person, so it was all new. I vibrated with excitement. I was on a date, a real date, and he brought me to a Penguins game. To top it off, we went down to the tenth row, just off of center ice.
“I had no idea my boyfriend was so well connected,” I said as we sat down.
The Penguins and Rangers were doing warm-ups and the arena was filling up.
“I love seeing you this excited. It makes me…”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” we were interrupted by a waiter. “Here are the menus for this evening. My name is Brian, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I bring you anything while you look these over?”
“Just a couple of Cokes for now, please,” Alex said.
“Sure. I’ll get those right to you. If you need anything, I’ll be around in the section, or standing up top there.” He pointed back to the top of the section.
“Thanks,” we said at the same time.
“You know you’re practically bouncing out of that seat, right?”
He was obviously pleased that he’d pulled off such a good surprise.
“I can’t help it. My first live Penguins game. Our first out-of-town date. It’s so perfect.”
Alex laughed. “You’re so cute.”
“Do you come here with your dad a lot?” I struggled to calm down a bit.
“Yeah. We do it a couple times a year. It’s great to see everything this close. Much better than on TV.”
“Here you are, two Cokes.” The waiter gave us the drinks. “Can I get you anything else?”
“I’d like a burger cooked well with fries, please,” Alex said.
“I’ll go for two hot dogs and a pretzel, please.”
“You got it. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” The waiter smiled and headed up the stairs.
We watched the players go through their warm-ups.
“Do you ever think about playing pro?” I asked while keeping my eyes on the players skating.
“I used to. I know I want to play in college. I can’t imagine not playing because I love it. But pro…I doubt it. I’d have to practice a lot more than I do. Look at the guys out there. Some of them were on skates when they were just three or four. I started when I was six and it’s not like I work at it every waking moment. What about you?”
“Jackson got me playing when we were seven because we both got ice skates for Christmas. He got a stick, too, so I had to get one. Leo, Aaron, David, and Doug started playing the year before. I want to be good enough for a scholarship. I need that so I can get away from home, far away if I can.”
“I’d like a scholarship, too. But, I try not to think about that, you know? It’s daunting. All the applications are in; scholarship forms filled out. It’s a waiting game now.”
I sighed, overwhelmed at how he made it all sound.
“Yeah, same here. What are the chances we’ll end up somewhere together? That would be awesome.”
“Well, I’ve got applications in at Penn, Michigan, NYU, and Maine. The search revolved around hockey and engineering. Hopefully I picked right.”
“So it’s possible we could be on the same campus. I’m looking at political science programs and I’ve applied to Penn, NYU, and Michigan, too, plus Boston and Skidmore. My dad will flip if I end up anywhere but Penn. He’s set on that one. I’m set on any one but that.”
Brian returned with the food.” Here you go, guys. Enjoy. That’ll be $20 even.”
I reached for my wallet, but Alex had his out and paid before I could do anything. Brian went off to see some people who’d just arrived.
“Tonight is my treat, so put that away,” he said, rejecting the money I was trying to give him.
“Are you sure?”
“Completely,” he said as he put mustard on his burger.
“So how’d you end up in hockey? I would’ve thought you’d have gone to football because of your brother’s success.”
I finished my hot dog prep while working on my answer.
“I try to distance myself from Zack as much as possible. My dad wanted me to play football, but I was never into it. The game’s too slow. Hockey moves fast and I love that. Besides, no way I wanted to play with Zack. If I can be the polar opposite of Zack, I’m happy. Certainly having a boyfriend helps that.”
I grinned at the thought.
“Ooooh, so I’m just a way to get back at your brother?”
Sarcasm was loud and clear in his voice. A wink quickly followed.
I bumped my leg against his; yet another hug that wasn’t a hug.
“Have I seen your parents at games?” he asked. “You should point them out sometime.”
“My mom comes a lot. She takes a couple hours off for the afternoon games and she’s always at the night games. My dad comes less. He says it’s harder for him to get away.”
“My parents have the same problem, especially since my dad works down here a few days a week.”
I took a drink to give me a break to decide if I was going to keep going about family. If we were going to be together, he needed to hear it all eventually.
“My dad always made Zack’s games, no matter the time or the place. He made sure my mom went and I was usually forced to go, too. I try not to care about Zack’s position as golden child, but it still gets me sometimes. My grades are better. I play a sport I’m good at. I think I’m headed to a better college. Zack has his special place with my dad, though. If Zack wasn’t such an asshole it wouldn’t be so bad, but he milks his position. And, he’s always tries to make sure I don’t forget I’m his little brother.”
I chomped on my hot dog to let Alex know that I’d finished talking.
“That sucks,” he said. “I pushed us into a serious moment there.”
“‘S okay,” I said, washing the dog down. “You might as well know the ins and outs of my family. Beside, I’m outta here next fall and it won’t matter anymore.”
“Cheers to that,” Alex said, raising his drink.
We hit the two plastic cups together. He said “clink,”which added the right goofiness to it.
As the game started, we got into being loud Penguins fans. They scored the first goal and owned the game from there. During intermissions we dissected plays and talked about replicating them, or trying to, for our own games. Our legs touched for nearly the entire game. I liked the contact with him. Before the third period started, Brian returned to check on us, having brought us way too much food over the past two hours.
“Okay guys, last call. Concession stand is open until the end of the game, but the club service wraps up at the start of the third. Can I get you anything else?”
We looked at each other, then at Brian, and at the same time said, “Ice cream.”
“Vanilla crunch for me,” Alex said.
“Good choices. Great way to end the night. Be back in a second.”
He zipped quickly up the stairs.
“We’re going to finish each other’s sentences soon, aren’t we?” I said.
“I think so. I thought it usually took longer than a couple weeks to start that.”
“Here you go. Vanilla crunch and strawberry.” He handed us our bars. Alex reached for his wallet, but Brian stopped him. “Nope. This one is on the house.”
“Cool. Did we miss some kind of giveaway or something?” Alex asked.
“Nope. I just wanted to.” Brian sat down on the stair next to Alex. “You guys have been fun tonight. Besides, what better way to end a game date than with free ice cream?”
Alex looked over at me with a confused look. I shrugged.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“You work around this many people,” Brian gestured with his hand at the crowd, “you know who’s on a date, who’s here with friends, with family.”
It was awesome we clicked so well, but it scared me that it was so obvious. Maybe we let our defenses down too much since we were out of town. Brian picked up on my concern.
“Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It’s okay,” I said quickly. “It’s just…surprising. It didn’t seem like we were doing anything but watching the game and hanging out.”
“I doubt anyone else picked up on it. People tend to miss what’s right in front of them.” Brian looked behind us, scanning the crowd. “See the server over in section 110?” Brian pointed so we knew where to look.
There was a tall blonde guy serving drinks. When he turned around, he saw us looking and waved. I smiled and waved, as did Alex and Brian.
“That’s my boyfriend, Adam. Maybe that’s how I figured it out, because I have a man of my own.”
“That’s cool. How long?” Alex asked.
“Almost two years. What about you guys?”
“Couple of weeks,”I said.
“Cool. See, even more of a reason to get free ice cream.” The lights dimmed, signaling the start of the third period. “I’ll let you guys get back to the game. Enjoy the rest of the night.”
“Thanks, Brian,” I said.
“Yeah, thanks. It was great to meet you,” Alex said.
“You guys, too. Hope to see you at another game some time.” Brian headed up the stairs to clear the aisle as the game got underway.
“That was freaky. I didn’t know we were that obvious.” I said it as much to myself as to Alex.
When I’d told Jackson, it was a deliberate move that revealed the truth. Here I thought we were playing it cool. Did this mean we weren’t hiding that well at school either? Or when we’d been out in Dawson?
“Me either. I like it, though.” Alex bumped his leg against mine and I didn’t hesitate to bump back. “I don’t mind people knowing I’m with you. Besides, it’s not like we plan to hide forever, right?”
He said forever! Yay! Yes, it’d only been two weeks, but it was the best two weeks ever. I was definitely in love, but I hadn’t said it yet. I didn’t want to jinx anything. Alex hadn’t said it yet either, but the idea of “forever” along with the talk of maybe going to college together was great.
“I know. It’s just…” I heard the frustration in my own voice, and didn’t like it. “Sorry. You know what? It’s cool. It’s one thing to keep ourselves hidden at home, it shouldn’t matter here.”
I grabbed Alex’s hand and held it in mine.
Suddenly, the crowd erupted around us as the Penguins scored. We jumped up to join the celebration. Twelve minutes later the game was done and the Penguins finished on top 4-2.
“That was a great game and a perfect date.”
“And we’re not done yet,” Alex said.
More? What more could there be? It was already an incredible night.
“Yes, that’s right. There’s more to do in Pittsburgh than hockey.”
“Cool. I don’t suppose you’re going to give me any clues.”
“Of course not. The look on your face as we got here was great. I’d like to see what happens with the next destination.”