Dan McQuade Dan McQuade is a writer living in Center City born and raised in the Far Northeast. He writes primarily about culture and sports with varying degrees of silliness. In addition to City Paper, his work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Philadelphia magazine, the Village Voice, Vanity Fair and other fine publications.
Cameron K. Lewis
Two years ago, Claude Giroux was just 23 and already one of the NHL’s rising stars. But he had something else on his mind. That year, two friends of his family had died in a car accident, leaving their 17-year-old daughter, Tinsley, with no place to live. And that’s how Tinsley and Claude Giroux became roommates.
Claude acted like a jerk at first, unsure of why he agreed to allow a stranger to board with him in his bachelor pad. Things were awkward, but eventually the two bonded. No one knew until one day Tinsley came home to Danny Brière, Sean Couturier, Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot hanging out at the apartment. Her bubbly personality eventually won over the whole team. Four Flyers even showed up at her high school volleyball game to cheer her on in the stands, faces painted in her team’s colors so they wouldn’t be recognized and mobbed by adoring fans.
Claude and Tinsley grew closer. She turned 18. They watched Piranha 3D together. They kissed. They had sex. They fell in love. The end.”
Obviously, this story isn’t true. Tinsley is fictional, as is this version of Giroux. They’re both characters in “Immobile,” a 37,860-word romantic fan-fiction story (for comparison, that’s 25 times as long as this piece) written by one of the many, many women who devote tons of time, energy and words to the art of hockey-based romance fan fiction.
“Immobile” was written by a teenager under the name Artful Aardvark; she says in her author’s note that she’s applying to colleges and studying for the ACTs, and apologizes for having Claude and Tinsley have sex without a condom. Hers is one of the longer stories (the longest is an astonishing 175,581 words), but she’s far from alone. There are hundreds of stories and millions of words dedicated to imagined romances and trysts with the Flyers available for your perusal on Mibba, a creative-writing website boasting well over 10,000 stories.
How do the actual Flyers feel about being manipulated like dolls in hundreds of public online fantasies? Unsurprisingly, nobody responded to requests for comment. (They fired their coach on Monday. They were busy.)
Most authors of Flyers fanfic identify themselves as young women, and this may be the one place on the Internet where this is actually true — it’s hard to imagine anybody but a young woman typing 3,000 words about 23-year-old Flyers winger Zac Rinaldo’s distress over being unable to see his long-distance girlfriend because he has to be on the road over the holidays. (The author of “Blue Christmas” lists her age as 17.) While the stories come with MPAA-style rankings from G to NC-17 and some get very, very explicit, the purely erotic stories are a minority. For example, “Immobile,” rated NC-17, doesn’t get to the actual sex until the 16th of 21 chapters.
The most popular Flyer leading man is team captain Claude Giroux, with more than 861,000 words devoted to him on Mibba alone. (For the approximate print equivalent, stack copies of Infinite Jest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the unabridged Moby-Dick on top of each other.)
Sometimes Giroux falls in love with a female trainer (a recurring plot setup in Flyers fan fiction). In one story, Giroux beats out Jordan Staal for the protagonist’s affections; in another he falls in love with a female hockey player who’s been drafted by the Flyers.
It’s a coincidence that Claude Giroux and Christian Grey share a set of initials, though Giroux does star in a story titled, pretty unimaginatively, “Shades of Grey.” The reference isn’t entirely non sequitur — though E.L. James has made good, having sold 70 million books and raked in nearly $100 million, at heart, she is still part of this community. Just a few years ago, her 50 Shades of Grey series was still a Twilight fan fiction called Master of the Universe being published online for free on a site like Mibba.
But the Flyers fan-fiction writers do it for the love of the craft (and, well, the Flyers). None of it is for sale. They usually even renounce the rights to most of their work. Even the youngest Mibba writers include a formal-sounding note announcing that they do not own the rights to the Flyers or anything related to the team. The exception is the lone story starring ex-Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, which states, probably mistakenly: “For all intents and purposes, I own Ilya Bryzgalov.”
But Bryzgalov still has one more fan-fiction story than Cliff Lee, Allen Iverson, Evan Mathis and most other Philadelphia professional athletes that do not play hockey. Because this phenomenon doesn’t happen for baseball, basketball or football. Search “Phillies” and you get four results (one of which is “It’s Werth It”); search “Flyers” and you get hundreds. We couldn’t find any featuring members of the Eagles or 76ers. (Though we did discover that Susan Finkelstein, infamous for being charged with offering to trade sex for World Series tickets in 2009, wrote a story the next year detailing her sexual fantasies about the 1980 Phillies.)
No, hockey stands alone. Philadelphia isn’t the only team getting love — the Penguins and Blackhawks actually spawn slightly more stories than the Flyers do — but aside from a few hundred soccer stories, nothing even comes close. It’s actually an established genre outside of the fanfic world: A list on Goodreads counts 81 hockey romance novels.
What is it about hockey players? “They’re so intense,” says Toni Aleo, a novelist who has written five books in the Nashville Assassins series. “They have such great work ethic. They’re great athletes, who you’d also like to hang out with.”
Aleo went to school for nursing and had never written a book before dashing off Taking Shots in six weeks in 2011. She says there’s no particular reason she chose the hockey world as her setting; it was just the first idea she actually started to write. Last weekend, Aleo attended a signing with eight other authors in Toronto. Of the 300 people who showed up, “about 150 were there to see me,” she says. “These were hardcore females who love their hockey,” she says. “Hockey is amazing.”
Aleo’s devotion to hockey — she’s a big Predators fan — and her “work ethic” comment might get to the crux of the appeal of the hockey player as romantic hero. Talk to any hockey fan for more than a minute and you’ll get the sense he or she believes hockey is, at its core, just better than other sports. Niche fanbases cause fans to become more passionate, to romanticize the sport. The players are average guys who got there through hard work. They’re relatable. They’re scruffy. They’re tough, but harmless (so, Canadian). A bunch of them are short. They’re totally dateable. They’re also mostly white, as are most of the fictional characters and real-life celebrities, from Christian Grey to Justin Bieber, who spur untold terabytes of fan fiction.
Also, Claude Giroux has an excellent beard.
Max Talbot is the second-most-popular Flyer on Mibba, with 40 stories to Giroux’s 60. There are more than a dozen stories each about former Flyers Danny Briere and Mike Richards. Both Schenn brothers, Luke and Brayden, feature in multiple stories. (Their stories tend to have punny titles like “You’re My Schennshine,” but at least one is... fairly gross.) In one NC-17 piece, Jakub Voracek is talked into getting a haircut by his girlfriend. Even goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz, who plays for a Flyers minor league team, is the subject of one story.
But pity poor Scott Hartnell, our cover boy. In many stories he’s a supporting character, played off as a goofball. Even in the three where he’s the romantic focus, he’s written pretty goofy. One of these opens at Franklin Mills. There’s even a story titled “Hartnell Down,” a Flyers fan meme that references Hartnell’s propensity to trip on the ice. “Scott Hartnell hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to romance,” the description begins.
In the strangest story on the site, an alternate-universe tale called “Shoot to Thrill,” Claude Giroux is the head of a French-Canadian gang. He shoots police captain Chris Pronger — a Flyer whose career was ended by concussions in 2011 — and puts him in a coma. It is Flyers defenseman/interim police chief Kimmo Timonen’s job to track down Giroux and bring him to justice. It’s like an awesomely bad Hollywood movie, but starring the Philadelphia Flyers.
Romantic fiction has long been a way for young women to explore their sexuality in a safe place, and fan fiction is an equally safe space for young writers, so it’s not so surprising that the two have overlapped so vigorously. But, still. Hockey?
“Hockey boys are hot, that’s the only thing I can really answer,” says Aleo.
UPDATE: We totally obtained a picture of Claude Giroux reading this article. While wearing boxer briefs.
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