It’s been decades since blackmail forced Troy Callahan to retire from playing professional hockey, and he’s built a successful career behind the bench. When he’s offered the opportunity to coach the Asheville Ravens—the most hated team in the ECHL—he’s convinced that his no-nonsense attitude is just what the team needs to put their focus back on hockey. But Troy is disheartened when he finds out the Ravens have signed Shane North, a player known for his aggression—especially when Shane’s rough good looks have Troy thinking inappropriate thoughts about a player, even if he’s set to retire at the end of the season.
Shane’s career in the majors never quite took off. Wanting to quit on his own terms, Shane agrees to a one-year contract with the Ravens and finds himself playing for a coach who thinks he’s an aging goon, and with a team that doesn’t trust him, Troy, or each other. Despite his determination not to get involved, Shane unwillingly becomes part of the team… and is just as unwillingly drawn to the gruff, out-and-proud coach. As the Ravens struggle to build a new identity, Shane and Troy succumb to the passion that might cost them everything.
*I was a first-reader for Coach’s Challenge
It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of this author and that we’ve become friends. I was a first reader of this book. While I can’t claim objectivity because I was involved when it was written, I can honestly say that this book is another fantastic addition to the series.
I’ve thought so much about what I want to mention in my review, but now that I’ve actually sat down to write it I know I won’t be able to write it all down because it’s just so much I adore about this book and the series as a whole.
I gobble everything up that has to do with the Scoring Chances series – no matter about which character it is, because I love them all. Which is unusual for me; usually I have one or two absolute favourites but not with the Scoring Chances series. Each new character we get to meet, I want to know more of and when they get a story they usually end way before I’m ready to say goodbye. Except for Isaac, he’s the one character I can trust to reappear in the next book. xD But this review is not about him, so back to Shane and Troy.
I adore these two! Reading Coach’s Challenge was so much fun. In the previous books there has always been at least one, if not both characters, questioning and still figuring out their sexuality. This time we have two characters who’ve known for years they’re gay. So there’s no uncertainty and slowly easing into things. These two pretty much jump head-first into it, aware of possible consequences if someone finds out about them, but at the same time not really caring about that. Though that’s probably less to do with them knowing that they’re gay and what they want, and more that it’s just Troy and Shane.
Troy Callahan is determined to help the Ravens because he has personal history with the previous coach St. Savoy. He’s not overly happy to find out that his best friend, the General Manager of the Ravens, Gabe Bow, has signed Shane North to play for the Ravens. Shane is a veteran defenseman known to get lots of penalties for his rough play and this will be his last season before retiring. He’s the last thing the Ravens need on their team – or so Cally thinks – but he’s about to find out how perceptions can be wrong.
Shane North wanted to end his career on his terms, so he signed a contract for the Ravens after his previous team didn’t renew his contract. When he gets there the last thing he expects is to care about the team. He just wants to play his last season, retire and move back to sunny San Diego. But once he’s there – a day late – he’s immediately attracted to Troy, even though he also kind of hates him. At first things don’t go exactly well between him and Troy, but soon he finds himself getting more invested in the team than he initially thought.
The push and pull between Troy and Shane was hands down one of the best things about Coach’s Challenge. They’re more daring than the protags in the previous books and don’t shy away from public sex, despite the forbiddeness of their relationship because of the Player – Coach situation. In any other setting this probably wouldn’t work quite so well, but because Shane is in his last year as a player and has pretty much achieved everything he could, there’s nothing for him to gain by sleeping with the coach.
Troy and Shane are stubborn and determined (and so bad at talking about their feelings!); it was a pleasure to spend time with them. I didn’t even notice how the chapters just flew by until suddenly it was over.
One thing I adore about this series (apart from the hockey… because HOCKEY!) is how character focused the books are and how easy it is to think of them as “real” people. Avon manages to consistently create fully fleshed out and relatable characters who are not even close to perfect. Instead they are perfect in their imperfections, if that makes sense. Previous books included characters learning to forgive themselves or learning that they can trust other people and are deserving of love. This time the prevalent message is that you’re not what everyone tells you you are. Despite all the “potential Shane hasn’t exploited” or that the Ravens are only “a group of thugs” – hated even by their own “fans” – they realised that what others say about you isn’t necessarily true or can be changed.
Another aspect I greatly enjoyed was the developing friendship between Shane and Xavier. In general I’m a big fan of the found-family narrative in this series. I love how the Ravens as a team grew closer together with Cally – or rather how they became a team in this book. I admit I didn’t particularly like them in the last book, but now that St. Savoy is gone they’re not the same group anymore. Seeing that slow transformation was great and gave me all kind of feels. You really won’t recognize the team the Ravens are by the end of the book compared to the group at the beginning of it.
Shane and Troy definitely hold a special place in my heart. I flove these two grumpy, stubborn men and hope you’ll also fall in love with them. 100% recommended!
Now I’ll have to go badger Avon to write Xavier’s book faster and also to write a book for Wes Kelly (and Alani too!) eventually. 😉