Roy MacGregor’s long-running novel series Screech Owls
opens with the 1995 Mystery at Lake Placid
. Written for older elementary to younger middle school readers, the 27-book series revolves around a preteen Canadian hockey team whose tournaments and travel games are fertile ground for all sorts of unsavory behavior that the young athletes must solve. Drawing on his experiences as a sports columnist for several newspapers, MacGregor spends much of the books explaining the dynamics of team sports, the roles that adults play in children’s hockey, and the importance of good sportsmanship during what sometimes seems like cutthroat competition. The first novel introduces the team’s main players as they face the unpleasant realization that someone is trying to sabotage their performance in an international tournament.
Twelve-year-old Travis Lindsay loves playing hockey with the Screech Owls. Like his friends, Travis dreams of someday becoming a player in the NHL, though he worries about his small size and the fact that he is still scared of the dark. He is a good winger—handy with his stick and a solid skater—although he is only a middling athlete on his team.
When the novel opens, the Screech Owls have just been invited to play in Lake Placid, in upstate New York, in an international peewee hockey tournament. The whole team has a blast in the van. Travis hangs out with his excitable and only slightly mischievous best friend Nish. Team captain and star center Sarah, whose skating is Olympic-level, sits between twins Willie and Norbert who play defense and who are always bickering—she is dating Norbert, much to Willie’s consternation. There’s also Guy, the goalie and youngest team member, whose enormous size makes him an excellent shot-blocker and whose father was a professional hockey player; strategist extraordinaire Fahd; and serious and committed Dmitri. The adults include the team’s beloved coach, Muck, and their trainer, Mr. Dillinger, whose son Derek is also a center on the team, but usually subs in from the bench.
The team is increasingly excited as the van gets closer to Lake Placid. They pull a couple of pranks, mooning other teams through the windows, and Mr. Dillinger cracks them up with his joking around. But really, they are thrilled at what they are going to get to do—play on an Olympic rink in a huge arena with scouts in the stands.
However, in Lake Placid, things start to go wrong for the Screech Owls. The first night, people keep banging on Sarah’s hotel room door throughout the night, preventing her from getting a good night’s sleep. The next day, when they face a formidable Toronto team whose center is a bully and whose defenseman is too quick for the Owls, the exhausted Sarah plays terribly. The next day, a player from an opposing team knocks Travis down in the middle of the street, luckily avoiding serious injury. And just before the next game, Sarah realizes that someone has been tampering with her equipment, damaging it clearly with the intention of sabotaging her performance. Travis and the rest of the Owls band together to try to figure out who is responsible for these orchestrated attacks.
Although MacGregor presents several red herrings to throw readers off the trail, it turns out that the culprit responsible for the sabotage is trainer Mr. Dillinger, whose kind and funny demeanor successfully hid the fact that he was miserable about his son Derek’s limited playing time. Mr. Dillinger had hoped that by sabotaging Sarah, he would make her unable to play, thus making it impossible for the team not to allow Derek to start.
The novel ends on an uplifting note of forgiveness and understanding. After they recover from the shock of being undermined by one of the adults whose job it was to support them, the team manages to gracefully let go their anger at Mr. Dillinger. The only person for whom this is too hard is Derek—after all, Mr. Dillinger isn’t just a betraying trainer, but a morally bankrupt father.
For unraveling the mystery and rallying the team to come out ahead on the tournament despite their setbacks, Travis earns the respect of Coach Muck, who declares Travis the team’s associate captain.