Nick Stirling figures his life is over. His dad’s been laid off and doesn’t seem to care. His family moves to a down-at-the-heels house on the wrong side of town, and Nick is transferred to another school. He can’t play inline hockey anymore for the team sponsored by his dad’s old company. And his new neighborhood has a team-the Phantoms-made up of a bunch of losers in old rollerblades who can’t skate backward.
When Nick is asked to join the “losers” in a minor three-on-three tournament, he discovers that what they lack in skill they make up for in guts. After the Phantoms get a sponsor and a coach, Nick has a chance to make a difference with his new team. And for the first time, he begins to make real friends.
There’s no way he’d ever go back to his old team, even if they begged. Or would he?
Book Review – The Hamilton Spectator
Blue Ice (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $12.95)
In the tennis courts at the end of our street, across the Linc from Lime Ridge Mall’s new Bay store, there’s always a crowd of kids whacking and hacking at each other in marathon roller-hockey matches. On the periphery, other kids do tricks on their stunt bikes and hoopsters try to hit nothing but net, but it’s the hockey players who draw the admiring crowds. Such a scene is painted in Hamilton author Estelle Salata’s Blue Ice (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $12.95).
Nick’s dad lost his computer company job, and mom has to leave her art career to broker mortgages. They move downmarket from a ritzy neighbourhood and Nick has to suit up for the Northwood Phantoms, a team from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, instead of the snooty Village Green Cyclones, the team from his old neighbourhood. The Cyclones are sponsored by the company that downsized Nick’s dad, and the firm’s owner has an interesting proposition for Nick, one that involves his dad getting his job back but only if Nick ditches the Phantoms and pulls on a Cyclone jersey.
Trouble is, Nick’s dad has gone into deep funk, a downward spiral due to his inability to get another job, while Nick has made new friendships on his new team. He doesn’t want to rejoin the Cyclones, but if he doesn’t, his dad may never get a grip on his life again.
Complicating matters is Nick’s school work-which has tumbled along with his father’s moods-and Melissa, a beautiful mentor assigned to Nick by a guidance counsellor, who happens to be the girlfriend of the insanely jealous Bronco, the Cyclones star centre. What’s a roller-rink hotshot to do?
Salata keeps things moving nicely, mixing breathtaking game action with the tough reality of Nick’s home life. Nick has a tough decision-or two-to make. But as the Phantoms’ head coach, pithy Rocky Restivo, says: “In the midst of every difficulty, lies opportunity.” Rocky doesn’t say much, but what he says is profound. And let’s not skate around the issue: this book rolls right along and is a fine tale for middle-school readers.
-The Hamilton Spectator
Book Review – Resource Links
BLUE ICE (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $12.95)
Nick Stirling lives for inline hockey. His dad is laid off, his family has to move to a crummy house, he transfers schools, and now plays hockey for a crummy team with, gasp, a girl for a goalie. Life can’t seem to get any worse especially since he is failing at school which means his parents won’t let him play hockey. Nick discovers who the real losers and winners are in this gripping, action-packed story.
The play by play hockey action is so full of life that it promises to have even non-players on the edge of their seats. The tension at the arena is reflected in the difficult choices that Nick has to make with no adult help or advice. Nick has a chance to make a difference with his new team and a chance to make real friendships but the odds are touch, very tough.
An extremely well written book on all levels – style appeal, characterization, reality, moral choices and consequences. The main thrust of inline hockey may initially appeal to male audiences but the well crafted storyline will draw in female readers.”
The scoreboard read, Cyclones: 3, Phantoms: 1. The play was fast and furious. A roar went up from the onlookers as a Phantom player drove to the net for a rebound. The Cyclone goalie, a bear of a player called the Giant, poked his stick out quickly to knock the puck away. The Phantom player couldn’t stop in time and tripped over the stick. He sprawled on the rink and crashed into the goalpost.
The Phantoms and the referee rushed over.
“Twisted ankle,” shouted Burger, a lanky kid. Beneath his helmet, his tight, curly hair clung to his forehead like a meat patty to a bun.
Nick strained forward as Burger eased the injured player to his feet.
“Phantoms,” ordered the ref. “You have five minutes to put three players on the court or you forfeit the game.”
Burger helped the player limp off the court.
“What are we going to do now?” asked Pinky, the goalie. Strawberry blonde hair poked out from under his helmet and a bridge of freckles dotted the nose. Josh shrugged.
Burger, the best player on the team, looked over at the fence. He stared hard at Nick then turned back to the other two. They went into a huddle.
“We’ve seen him skate,” Nick heard Burger say. “He’s good enough to play for us.”
Good enough! I’m better than good enough, Nick thought.
“What have we got to lose?” he heard Pinky say. “We don’t have a chance anyway. We’re behind 3 to 1.”
The three players broke apart. Slowly, dragging his stick, Josh skated over to Nick.
“Hey, kid! Want to play for us?”
“Nick, the name is Nick.” He wanted to play so badly that his heart pounded with excitement. But he didn’t want them to know that. Still he hesitated.
“So what do you say, Nick? Want to play?”
Nick eyed the kid. “Why not,” he finally agreed.
Josh let out a “Whoop” and Burger grinned.
Nick hurried to the gate, skated onto the rink and shouted out his name to the timekeeper. “Nick. The name is Nick Stirling.” He skated around in circles, warming up.
“Here’s a stick,” Burger said. “Hey Greg, throw us your sweater. Here you go, kid…I mean Nick.”
A few minutes later, Burger crouched over the face-off zone and waited for the referee to drop the puck. The Cyclone forward whacked the puck across center. Nick spun around, raced after it, deked past his own defense, and caught the loose puck. He cushioned it against his blade and skated back over center. As he closed in on the huge Cyclone goalie, he took a slap shot and missed the net on purpose. The Giant’s legs split as he went down on the floor. The puck hit the boards behind the net and bounced in front. Josh swooped in front of the goal and slammed at the puck, but Nick sneaked in from the left end, snatched the puck away before Josh’s stick could touch it then tapped it in himself. The Giant didn’t even see it as the ref signaled a goal!
Pinky skated out in front of the Phantom net banging the goalie stick on the floor. “I told you we didn’t have anything to lose.”
Nick looked over. The score was now Cyclones: 3, Phantoms: 2, but Pinky still didn’t think he could play. Fasten your seat belts, Phantoms, he thought. Let’s see who has nothing to lose now.
Josh slammed his stick on the floor. “That was my goal,” he said and skated away.
Burger circled around Nick and gave him a light tap with his stick.
“Great goal,” he cried.
“I didn’t want Josh to screw it up,” Nick said.
Seven minutes were gone. Only thirteen minutes left. Thirteen minutes to score two goals and take home the B-22 Bomber Blades. The Cyclone players looked bigger than the Phantoms. They wore shoulder pads that felt like cement blocks if you got slammed into them. It wasn’t against the rules to wear them, thought Nick. Most of the time, though, no one wore pads because they were too hot. Besides, roller hockey was supposed to be a no-contact sport.
The Giant was a bear of a kid bigger than the rest of the team. The net was his own personal territory. Nick also knew the meanest, fastest Cyclone player Bronco Baranski. He barreled down the rink like a horse scattering pebbles in its path.
Last year when they had played on the Village Green team together, their fathers had both worked for Computent. In fact, it had been Bronco’s Dad who had given Nick’s Dad the axe. Nick didn’t like him much, but it was better to have Bronco on your side than on the opposing team. A two-way player, who could play both offense and defense, he could be deadly.
In the face-off zone, the ref held up the red fluorescent puck and slapped it into the circle between Bronco and Josh. Bronco won the draw and streaked down the floor like lightening. Nick took after him with Josh trailing. Nick poked his stick in front of Bronco to get the puck. The other Cyclone forward backed up and whacked the puck off to the side. Nick scrambled into the corner to dig for it, but Bronco shouldered him aside and broke loose in front of the net. Bronco came in with the puck, took a shot, then crashed the goalie.
Pinky went down and sprawled on his back. Another goal scored for the Cyclones. Now the score read Cyclones: 4, Phantoms: 2.
“A shoulder pad goal,” muttered Burger, giving Bronco a shove. “No penalty?”
Bronco shoved him back.
“Dream on,” growled Bronco. “Hey, Nick. How come you’re playing with these losers?”
Nick felt like punching him out. Instead, he grinned as if it didn’t bother him.
“Just filling in, Bronc.”
“Keep your head up,” he warned. “We’re gonna kick butt.”
Slowly Pinky came to his feet and brushed himself off. He stood with one hand on his hip and glared at Bronco. “He crashed me on purpose,” Pinky protested.
The referee acted as if he hadn’t seen or heard a thing. He was a young official, about eighteen. Even some refs were afraid of Bronco.
They skated around feeling each other out when Burger took a long shot from center and caught the Giant asleep.
The puck hit the five hole, right between the goalie’s legs! The score Cyclones: 4, Phantoms: 3. Slowly, the gap closed!
The puck flashed back and forth with players scrambling after it. Both goalies made some great saves. The seconds ticked by on the scoreboard. Time was running out. The Phantoms weren’t going into the corners enough, Nick thought. They weren’t digging for the puck. They acted as if they were afraid of the Cyclones.
Burger and Josh wore the brake pads on their cheap skates turned down. No wonder they were so slow. Good players never wore brake pads, Nick thought. They knew that brake pads stopped you from turning sharply, and caused your skates to slide out of quick turns. They only wore them because they were afraid of crashing into the boards and getting hurt.
The Cyclones scrambled for the puck in the Phantom end. Nick stole it out from under the stick of a defenseman named Chris, who wore a silver ring in his eyebrow. Nick circled around Bronco, cradling the puck against his blade. Suddenly he saw an opening. A break away in the clear! He bent forward, heading for the net.
Nick had noticed a weakness in the Giant’s game. Whenever the Phantoms closed in on him, he went down early on the floor to stop the shot with his stick or glove. Nick zoomed in on goal. He let a slap shot go aiming for the top shelf. Nick wasn’t surprised when the Giant went down to block it. The puck whistled past his left ear, and the score was tied at 4-all.
“Good shot, Nick!” Josh pounded him on the back.
“Great shot!” cried Burger slapping his helmet. “Let’s hold them now and get another one,” screamed Pinky, coming out of the net and throwing an arm around Nick’s shoulder, jabbing him in the biceps. Nick looked over at the time clock. It showed 1:00. Only sixty seconds left! He wiped his sleeve across his sweaty face, his jersey dripping wet in the heat. The rest of the team looked tired and hot too. Nick’s legs felt like mush but he willed himself to go on.
He skated over to the face-off zone, stood across from Bronco and waited for the puck to drop. Bronco poised over his stick, grinning wickedly at Nick.
“Your time is up, Nick,” he warned.
Nick tensed, and lost the draw to the Cyclone.
Bronco shot the puck ahead, raced down the floor in time to take a pass from the Cyclone forward, and closed in on the Phantom net. Skating hard, Nick swept back to cover his own end. Bronco whacked the puck at the goaltender. Pinky sank down on both knees, reached out and grabbed the puck in his catching mitt.
Bronco and Chris closed in to take Pinky out
again. The same play! But Pinky was ready. As Bronco shot the puck at the net and came crashing in, Pinky checked him off. With the blocker and the end of the stick, Pinky gave him a double whammy. Right in the gut.
WHOOSH! Nick heard the air escape from Bronco’s lungs as he fell to the right. The puck came loose and Chris shot from the other side. Pinky made the save! He stopped it with his mitt as the puck bounced out off the pad. Pinky lunged, caught it in mid-air with his mitt and passed it out with his stick, all in one motion.
With seconds left to play, the fans on the sidelines shouted out the remaining seconds, “Twelve, eleven, ten, nine…”
Burger and Nick charged down the floor to the Cyclones’ end. The Giant waited for them. He blocked the net like a sumo wrestler as Nick skated towards him. Nick passed to Burger coming in on his left. Burger tried to get around Bronco, who skated him off to the side. Burger pivoted, came out to the front of the net and passed to Nick.
Nick deked first to the left as the Giant went into a crouch, then to the right to throw him off guard. The Giant’s legs spread wide as he scrambled to get back to the other side. Nick saw his chance. An opening! He let a wrist shot go and the puck sailed through the five hole to hit the net. Overjoyed, the Phantoms jumped up and down pummeling and pounding each other with excitement. The Phantoms had beaten the Cyclones 5 to 4!
Greg joined in the celebration. He was still limping, but he looked just as excited as the rest of the team.
“Hey, Greg,” said Burger. “Meet Nick the Giant Killer.”
“Thanks for taking my place,” Greg said. “You saved the game for us.”
“I had fun,” said Nick. “I really miss playing for a real team.”
A real team like Village Green Cyclones, he couldn’t help thinking. These kids couldn’t skate for beans.
But Nick hadn’t felt this good in a long time. If only he had won this game with his old teammates, things would have been perfect.
Design: Darrell McCalla
Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in U.S. and Canada 2001
Paperback 123 pages – $12.95 Canada/$7.95 U.S.
Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited 195 Allstate Parkway Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 4T8
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