Author: Amanda Thornton

2023-2024 “What Gay Hockey Means to Me” Essays Published and Winner Announced

Every year, the MGHA asks our community to reflect on their experience and prompts everyone to write an essay on “What gay hockey means to me”. This year we had 3 people respond and as always, these essays reflect the beauty and diversity of meaningful experiences.

Click the links below to read the full essay.

Jon’s Essay and Profile
Jon’s 2023-2024 essay won this year and will be featured in Our Lives Magazine.

Beau’s Essay and Profile

Paul’s Essay and Profile

Thanks to everyone who participated this year – you mean the world to us!

Paul Weber – Ode to the Bleacher Creatures – 2023-2024 Essay

An Ode to my Fellow Bleacher Creatures by Paul Weber

I’ve always been tempted by these essay submissions, mostly as a way to contribute to a league that has already given me so much. But, I hesitated for years because, in a way, I felt like I didn’t have this ‘rising from the ashes’ story about my entry into gay hockey that warrants an essay. Maybe something that might warrant an Oscar nod in the ‘made for movies’ remake of my life. 

Nope – you’re not getting that here. 

My beginnings with the league started pretty simple. Following a cute boy around that I recently started dating, he invited me to join him on a Sunday night to watch a round of games at Hartmeyer arena. As I walked into the unassuming ice rink, I was greeted by that ‘smell.’ It’s not hockey sweat. It’s not concession stand popcorn. No, it’s Zamboni exhaust. Super healthy to inhale, I’m sure – yet high-inducing every time. As I later came to realize – it’s a smell that tells me that Sunday afternoon is here.

As I watched the players skate that day, I realized two things: 

  1. Dang, were hockey players hot (duh). 
  2. Wow. He’s giving a LOT of space to some of the slower players on the other team. Players that I know he could easily skate circles around. Why? Take that puck! Score that basket! (or something like that)

It was absolutely incredible to see, and EVERYONE was doing it. Giving newer players space. While I hadn’t spent much time in ice rinks before (see aforementioned smell observation) – I knew that this league was different. 

As we started to get more serious, I found myself chasing this boy around the rink more and more. See paragraph 4, part a. This time, often accompanied by drinks and baked goods. I quickly realized that making friends in the rink was really easy with this group of people, and sharing wine and cupcakes only increased my odds of chatting it up with a fellow ‘bleacher creature,’ as I termed us (hockey husbands/wives/partners worked, too!). 

Not surprisingly, after spending almost 3 years as a bleacher creature myself – my fellow hockey creatures started to encourage me, more and more, to play in the league myself. It looked fun. It looked expensive. But it mostly looked fun. 

Oddly enough, I got my start officially on the ice playing broomball in a Madison Sports + Social club league. While I absolutely hated the sport (mostly because I felt completely out of control on the ice), it was basically the perfect gateway into hockey. By playing broomball, I needed a helmet, shin guards, elbow pads, and more – so hockey only followed naturally when I picked up my first pair of skates. It was all too easy at that point to sign up for my first season.

The rest, as they say, is history – and through several seasons on the rink, some captaining experience, and endless Sundays spent whipping up new sweets for my teammates and random passersby – I can say I’ve never looked back. 

As a person who generally has an outright aversion to sports (mostly because I was horrible at them) – I would have never joined a league where ‘winning is king’ or several showboats on the league end up taking the recognition home every night. 

No cute boy is worth joining a league for that. 😀

No – what I found with the MGHA was a family first. And for the first 3 years on those bleachers – that’s exactly the type of non-skater family that I found. A family that cared about my week, what I was up to at work, and was willing to chat about it over a cupcake and a glass of Merlot. That community that I found as a bleacher creature, more than anything, showed me that this is way more than a hockey league. And that, more than the sport, is what continues to be so important to me about the MGHA. 

It’s a cupcake-eating, care about you as a human being, hugs in the hallway, and high fives for that promotion at work kind of league. And that, my fellow hockey friends, is a family that’s totally worth spending your Sunday afternoons with!

Beau Lynn-Miller – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023-2024 Essay

To say I love to skate would be an understatement. To say I live to skate would be closer to the truth. I grew up near Lake Monona and it’s possible that I could skate before I could walk; I don’t really remember learning to do either. My dad enrolled me in youth hockey but I had long hair and was on the young and small end of my cohort so all the boys made fun of me. I quit when I was in mini-mites.

But I never lost my love of skating. In the summers I’d rollerblade all over town. In the winters I’d just go skate at Tenny or Olbrich – or the lakes on the rare days and magical nights when they were smooth as glass and not covered in snow. But I never played in the rinks, even at the parks – they were too scary.

When I was around 20 I actually met someone in the MGHA and told him that I always wanted to play hockey but was too afraid of all the boys. He encouraged me, but still I was intimidated. When I was 24 I bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia and spent the better part of the next 2 years drifting through Asia and the Middle East, hitchhiking a great deal of the way and pushing my boundaries and limits a little more every day. I left on that trip as a boy and came back as a man; far less scared of anything.

A couple years later when a co-worker in Seattle asked me if I would take an adult-learn-to-play hockey class with him, it sounded like a good idea. I wasn’t sure I even knew all the rules of hockey, and I certainly didn’t know any of the strategy or how to use the boards or shoot on a goalie. The class was friendly and we entered the lowest division together. I fell in love with it like nothing in the previous 10 years. My skating ability kept me safe from the goons and I couldn’t wait to get back out every night.

5 years later I had risen 13 divisions and I was surrounded by guys who played travel hockey as kids, or just finished playing college. They could skate as well as me and they played a much rougher sport. It was technically a non-checking league but the refs seemed to look the other way in the higher divisions, and games routinely ended in fights. What started as a love that I just couldn’t get enough of turned into a dread that left me wondering if I’d go back out every night. I counted the game as a huge success if I wasn’t too injured to play the following week. 

At my very last game in Seattle I was skating with my head down because I still hadn’t learned to control the puck, and some guy intentionally hit me so hard I lost feeling in my right arm for a week. When that subsided the migraines set in. I had symptoms so bad a neurologist told me to get an MRI immediately. The refs never even stopped the game. Fortunately I’m okay.

I think most people have a good idea what it means to play hockey, but it’s not so clear what it means to be gay. Both gender and sexuality, like good hockey strategy, can be fluid, and the terms aren’t always clear (I wish I knew what “flow” and “lettuce” were when I was younger). When I was in high school I thought I might be gay, so I tried that on for size but it didn’t quite seem to fit. I played with gender a bit as well and never found an answer there, but these days I feel comfortable as a man. I’ve identified as queer since before the Q got added to LGBT, and before it was an option on dating apps. I’m not OG, but I’ve also never felt entirely “straight”.

I wasn’t surprised that people in gay hockey were more likely to help me than to hurt me. If this league was just way more safe than any other, that would be enough. But the complexity inherent in gay hockey requires more thought, and this league bleeds thoughtfulness. The organization, consideration, and care in the MGHA also makes it stand out above the rest. If it was only that, it would be enough. And yet still, gay hockey is more than the sum of its parts. The community that the MGHA cultivates is truly a model for our day. It’s easy to accept someone into your group when they look like you or have a similar story. I presented to the MGHA as a straight guy who wasn’t scared to play in the top division, and they still welcomed me with open arms, hearts, and minds. That’s what gay hockey means to me.

Jon Zimmerman – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023-2024 Essay

Jon’s 2023-2024 essay won this year and will be featured in Our Lives Magazine.

Two years ago, I had never even considered watching sports, let alone playing in one. At the time, I was struggling with depression and was losing interest in things I used to enjoy doing. Activities like yoga, biking, playing piano, activities where I could be alone in my head but still exist in the world without really having to be a part of it. Activities for me to momentarily forget the overwhelming heaviness of depression and loneliness I felt every waking moment. I was living in a gradually darkening place, and I felt out of control to stop it. It was during this time that I was introduced to hockey.

I had started seeing someone who was an MGHA player, and he invited me to come watch his game. My first memory of that night was the smell of the ice arena when I first walked through the doors. It smelled like coolant and popcorn, an odd but somewhat pleasing aroma, something unique and somehow fitting. Sitting in the stands, I had no clue what to expect. I felt awkward and nervous about being an “outsider” around the other experienced hockey fans. From the stands, I looked down at the ice, trying to take it all in. It seemed so big, felt so cold, and I felt out of place. But then I spotted my guy and he looked up and waved to me from the ice. In that moment, all of the anxiety and awkwardness melted away. I felt a sense of validation and could let myself relax and enjoy the game.

As the game began, I was absolutely mesmerized by the players gliding around the ice in their colorful jerseys. It looked like so much fun, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the game. Some of the fans sat down next to me and helped me to understand some of the game’s rules. I felt welcomed and surprised at their openness and enthusiasm.

Afterward, remembering how much fun the players were having skating around and playing on the ice, I was curious to explore ice skating to see if I could do it. I bought a pair of skates and started going to public skates, crawling along the boards at first, feeling eager but looking ridiculous. All the while, I kept coming to watch MGHA games. Over the next few months, I began to meet and make friends with more of the players, and they took the time to help me learn how to ice skate, for which I was so grateful. At first, my only intention was to learn about the sport and ice skating so I could share in a hobby with the guy I was seeing. However, gradually, as the weeks went by, I grew more intrigued by the game, and my focus shifted and transformed into my own genuine excitement and love for the sport.

Things did not work out how I would have liked with the guy I was seeing, which left me heartbroken. Adding to that pain was him telling me he did not want me to come to his games anymore. I felt upset because, by that time, what I was really enjoying about the MGHA games was being around the enthusiastic players and fans and being caught up in the excitement of watching the games with them. It felt like I was beginning to be accepted into a unique community of people from many backgrounds and interests, all of us bonding together over the sport of hockey. Sundays were “hockey” days, and it was the highlight of my week. Nevertheless, even though it hurt, I stayed away as he asked. A few weeks went by, staying home, but I continued my skating practice and hockey research. Eventually, he apologized, saying it was not his place to stop me from attending the games. I eagerly began coming again every Sunday, watching more games, and meeting more people, and he and I are still friends to this day.

After watching the 2023 Classics games, I felt like I did not want to be just a spectator anymore. I decided I would try learning to play hockey. I spent hours and hours, day after day, at the Shell and, eventually, the Bakke ice arenas for public skates. I ever so gradually went from crawling along the boards to clumsily skating to actually skating. When summer rolled around, I borrowed some hockey gears and went to my first stick and puck. Wearing the gears for the first time, I felt awkward and silly, but going back, again and again, it became like my suit of armor. Later that summer, I attended the MGHA skill sessions, where I learned all the basics of the game and skating. I kept going to more public skates and open stick and pucks, getting as much ice time as possible.

Eventually, fall came around, and I was now a player in the MGHA, on one of the best teams with one of the best captains. My biggest worry about joining the league was that I would get discouraged or receive harsh feedback about being bad at the game. But I was surprised at how much the opposite my experience was. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive of each other; I could miss passes, fall, skate slowly, and I was always encouraged to keep going with enthusiastic cheers from my teammates. I cannot think of any other place where taking a risk of learning something so challenging and new could be done in such a safe space.

Hockey has saved me and has helped me find new purpose and fulfillment in my life. Aside from the pure thrill and joy of flying down a sheet of ice on steel blades covered in gears with sweat pouring down your face, the sense of friendship, support, and comradery I found as part of the MGHA has helped me through some of the darkest, most difficult times this last year. Hockey has given me an outlet to pour all of my emotion, pain, loneliness, and heartbreak into a fierce, fun, and healthy activity. From all this, one thing I’ve learned is that it is tough to feel sad when you’re on skates. 

Putting on that MGHA jersey for the first time before my first game, the feel of my skate touching the ice, the peculiarly pleasing smell of the arena, it occurred to me—here I am, a full year later, I am on the ice that I was once mesmerized by from in the stands. I began to think about my first time in the arena, about how nervous and awkward I felt, and wondered if it was someone else’s first time. I looked up to the place in the stands where I first sat, reflecting on how different of a person I am now compared to back then. I imagined my past self up there, watching his future self down here. I looked up, and waved.

All the Way Award Winners 2023-2024

Buncha’ Pylons (Orange L3) 

Joe Bartol – Joe brings encouraging energy and spirit to the bench in good times and bad! He’s the first guy to welcome you back after a shift and build you up, and he always has a positive take on what’s going on around him. Joe exemplifies the MGHA Way, where the quality of the company we keep and the fun we have together is #1

Encouraging both on-ice and off-ice, always happy to chat and either help someone feel more comfortable, or help someone develop more skills. I always enjoy having them on my team and I think he’s very much deserving of the award!

Dandy Lions (Yellow L3) 

Sherry Holly – This award belongs to Sherry Holly, the epitome of teamwork and inclusivity on the ice. Through steady support and encouragement, Sherry has fostered an environment where every teammate feels valued and respected. Her calm demeanor under pressure and reliability in critical moments have been instrumental in the team’s success. Moreover, her positivity radiates, uplifting the spirits of everyone around her. In a sport fueled by intensity, Sherry stands out for her unwavering composure. She has the ability to take a message from the captains or board and reconstruct it for the team, so it comes across solution oriented rather than deficit focused. She exemplifies sportsmanship and camaraderie, making her truly deserving of the All the Way Award for the Dandy Lions.

Déjà Blue (Blue L3) 

Emily Feinstein – Emily, simply put, IS HOCKEY. She represents everything I love about the sport: the strategy, the speed, the skill, and the ability to “leave it all on the ice.” As a captain and coach, she’s patient, kind, and focuses just as much on the “attaboys” as she does on the “ya-done-f*cked-ups” and has been instrumental in helping me and my teammates gain a better grasp on the game – especially at the L3 level. As a player, a coach, a captain, a mentor, and a friend, she is the whole package, and an asset to MGHA. Thanks for an amazing season, Emily!

Emily really stepped it up to take care of our teammates so far all season long.

Extremely Well Red (Red L1) 

Lizzie McBride –  She has come into MGHA for her first year and has always been positive. Very open to learning new tricks and trying new things.

Lizzie started this season and brought both team spirit and learning multiple positions. She has shown the MGHA Way both on and off ice around all our layers.

Frozen Puckaneers (Sky Blue L2) 

Brian Juchems – He is always most welcoming

Brian is always positive, smiling, taking care of folks. He’s a joy to have around and makes the team a welcoming place! Brian has been nothing but positive and one to everyone and about everything this season.

Limelights (Lime L1) 

Evelyn Kahl – Evelyn plays as if she’s been a hockey goalie for YEARS! I’m so beyond blown away at how far she grew over the course of the season. She is also an amazing person off the ice, for example she led the charge to get pizza after our games. Love you Evelyn!

Evelyn has an excellent attitude; always upbeat and encouraging.

Maroon XV (Maroon L1) 

Paul Weber – Paul is always ready to hype up every little win or improvement that anyone makes and always leads the team in cheers from the bench. He exemplifies what it means to play the MGHA way in always supporting everyone and helping others grow. Also, his baking is second to none.

Paul brings an incredible energy to the bench and for the team. He brings baked goods just about every game just to get us feeling good. He also has created so many cheats for the team and continues to push a positive and fun energy to our group on the ice!

Paul is our team cheerleader and cruise director. His presence in the locker room brings light & joy. One of the very best teammates I’ve ever had.

Red Hot Chilly Puckers (Red L2) 

Jill “JJ” Hovden – She’s one of the biggest team players I’ve ever met, and I think she exemplifies what it means to go all the way. She never fails to uplift others and it’s literally impossible to be in a bad mood around her. I’m damn proud to be on her team.

In her first season in the league, Jill has been tremendously receptive to MGHA style hockey, friendly and welcoming in the locker room, and a positive teammate.

Mari Verbeten Sexy Train 2: The ‘Boose is Loose (Maroon L3) 

Mari Verbeten – This year, Mari embodied the MGHA Way and “walked the walk” of how to play L3 hockey. Through her ice skating/dancing through sticky situations and endless encouragement, backed with action to develop smart strategic plays, Mari showed us how it’s done. She acknowledges each small moment of progress for our Sexy Train, and celebrates teammates’ skills and accomplishments every week. Mari conducts with positivity and humble leadership on the ice, and lays the track for inclusive and joyful hockey. The MGHA is better off with her showing us how to hockey, and we are grateful for the friendship and high-speed hockey Mari brought to Sexy Train this year. Chugga chugga for now, choo choo forever. Thanks Mari!

Skeleton Crew (White L1)

Andy Girnau-Gomez – Andy shows up to every game, every practice, and every social event. He volunteers when he can and hangs around to watch games. He’s always down to sub when other teams are in need and helps out with both the Team Trans Friendship tournament and the MGHA tournaments. He’s a great friend and always checks in on his team mates.

When we found ourselves without a goalie in the middle of the season, Andy volunteered his time, resources, knees, and hips to learn how to play the position, which in itself is worthy of an All The Way Award. But Andy has also been a constant positive presence on and off the ice, offering helpful feedback during games and at open skates, and always offering to buy his teammates a beer – or a shot of malört!

Andy is the jolly, irreverent uncle we all wish we had. He keeps things light in the locker room, then goes and plays his heart out on the ice. He tried GOALIE this year, for crying out loud! I definitely think he deserves to be recognized for his team spirit and excellent attitude. Go Andy!

The Crows Have Skates (Black L2) 

Jude Denlinger – Jude is a talented player, an exemplary leader, and a fantastic teammate. They always emphasize inclusion and support of one another, while also finding a way to educate and motivate their fellow teammates.

This is Jude’s first year as a team captain and they did a great job leading the team and playing stand out defense. Jude is always reminding us to have fun, be safe on the ice, skate in control and play the MGHA way. We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful person leading the way for the Crows. CAAAW CAAAW!

They always have such a positive attitude and are always super supportive of everyone in the league.

Jude is an excellent captain. They are very supportive of everyone on the team and are always giving positive feedback. They also lead by example when it comes to playing the MGHA way.

The Yellowship of the Rink (Yellow L2) 

Drew Kohrs – He’s always upbeat and patient, especially helping me learn my first year on ice. I was always happy when he went out and played defense with me.

Drew is an exemplar of the MGHA way, on and off the ice. During games he can be found encouraging, coaching, and cheering on teammates from the bench. He’s even acted as an unofficial assistant captain when one of the captains is out. He always brings a positive attitude to the locker room and really makes it a fun team to be on.

Top Cheddar (Orange L2) 

David Hafner – David has been a leader on our team all season. He has great vision of the game both on the ice and on the bench. David is quick to offer advice to our team between periods and even quicker to acknowledge the good in his teammates. David is the GOAT…cheese.

I had a lot of fun playing with David this season. He is always upbeat and supportive of his teammates. He offered a lot of great advice and tips on the ice and off.

Trash Pandas (White L2) 

Sam Erickson – Sam joined the league after the skills assessments already took place and was placed on Trash Pandas after not really playing hockey before. He jumped in skates first ready to go, and has subbed a lot for other L2 teams! He always has the most positive attitude in the locker room before and after the games, as well as on the bench waiting to hop on the ice. Sam is also a big team player. Rather than taking shots on the goal all the time, Sam makes the extra effort to pass to his fellow forwards to give them the opportunity to score. (But to brag for him, he is one of our team’s leading scorers, so he probably wants to spread the love.) Sam is an all around great person to have gotten to know 🙂

Sam always comes with a positive, enthusiastic attitude. Sam is great about looking out for his teammates and cheering everyone on. Sam is a great asset to the team!

Under the Sea (Blue L1) 

Amanda Bloo Walker is wonderful–always cheerful, smiling, happy to be on the ice, and so much fun to have in goalie as a defender! We hype each other up on the ice and everybody’s always laughing when Bloo’s around.

Bloo has great team spirit and she’s always willing to learn, improve, and listen to her teammates. It’s been great to play with her this year!

Whose Lime is it Anyway? (Lime L2) 

Mandy Morrow – Mandy has led the team, organized lines, gotten subs (many every week), and maintained a positive can-do attitude throughout the whole season. You could say she’s really squeezing that lime. She lifts people up and generates a great sense of camaraderie so everyone feels valued and supported. Her ability to improvise with lines, devising a “sub-lime” line concept, as well as various fun cheers has really pulled the team together this year and been one of the most positive in my experience. All this on top of being injured and out for a good chunk of the season! Anyway, ayedeayedeayde I could go on, but really the points don’t matter with such a great captain who knows all the best lines for us limes.

Mandy has always been helpful giving advice to me for how to improve. She had an injury and still came to games, helping out and kept a very positive attitude despite not being able to play.

Wonka’s Winners (Gold L1)

Bre Cyr – Bre was a great social aspect of the team this year. She took the Wonka name to heart and bought team patches for everyone’s jerseys. She helped to organize a team outing to see the new Wonka movie and started the team Facebook page. She also took on a role as a scorebox lead. On the ice, she stepped up to sub more often this year and showed a lot of improvement in her play. She’s a great teammate to have and shows what it is to play the MGHA way!

Zambluenis (Royal Blue L2) 

Christopher “Wally” Walters – Wally arrives for every game with a big smile on his face. He’s encouraging and helpful on and off the ice and he’s willing to put it all on the ice with a laugh and occasionally a penalty?

Essay Contest: What Madison Gay Hockey Means to Me – Deadline March 24th

Now that the season is almost over (only 3 more games???) and we’re all a little sad we won’t be seeing our teams and friends on the regular, it’s time to reflect on what hockey has meant to us as individuals. We all are changed in some way by being a part of this league and community. Writing and sharing our experiences helps others learn and grow and new players see a potential path for themselves into hockey and the LGBTQIA* community. Our Lives Magazine runs an essay contest on this subject each season and the winner gets published in the magazine as well as their dues waived for next season.

All are encouraged to write an essay. All 2023-2024 league participants are eligible for this contest (except previous winners). Essay length is not set, take as many or few words as you need to speak from the heart.

More explanation of this as well as previous essays can be found here

If you only read one essay, I recommend Geoffrey’s essay from 2008

The 2022 winner, Dexter Lane, in Our Lives Magazine

Fun factoid: these essays are what someone at the NHL found and fell in love with and got them here to make a video about us. Oh, didn’t know the NHL made a video about us?

Please send your essay submission and any questions to Amanda Thornton Essays will be read and voted on by members of the current board and captains who do not enter this year’s contest.

Deadline is March 24th (championship night)!

ALL THE WAY AWARDS – Nominate a teammate!

TL;DR Please fill out All the Way Award nomination for your team by Thursday 3/7.

This content is available to members only. Please login or register to view this area.

The survey has 3 questions (plus one optional) and the nice things you say about your teammate may be published in a post and possibly read out loud on Championship Night (3/24)!

Examples of previous nominations:

{Player} was new to the league this year, but immediately took to the concept of playing the MGHA way. As an experienced player, they quickly learned how to adjust their play style, and always worked collaboratively with their linemates to help create plays. On the bench and in the locker room, {player} was always upbeat and inclusive. They even dyed their hair blue to match our team’s jerseys!

{Player} exemplifies a team player. They volunteered to play whatever position was needed even though they preferred defense. Over and over they quietly explained the MGHA way, making everyone feel welcome and giving them a chance to succeed. 

Here is last season’s post about the winners for more examples

We will be reaching out to captains to confirm their team’s selection after the nomination deadline. 

Maggie Stack – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023 Essay

“You play hockey?”

As an overweight 42-year-old mother of two, I often get this question when I talk about my hobbies. The look of surprise then fades, and the next thing most people say is “That’s awesome!”

Yeah. It is.

So how did I get here? And (given the title) what does it mean to me? Let’s get into it!

My little brother played hockey when we were growing up in Minnesota.  I was busy with my own things at the time, like band and speech team and softball and theatre, so I left him to it and never imagined myself as a hockey player.

Fast-forward 20 or so years, and one day I got the call from my mom that my brother, a Green Beret, had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

My world shattered. Our parents, my sister, everyone who knew him: All of our worlds shattered. And I struggled to pick up the pieces for a long, long time. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, and it served as a wakeup call that got me into therapy, where I learned to feel my feelings no matter how difficult they were.

Eventually (putting the “G” in “MGHA”), I realized that some of those feelings were super gay. And that’s how I finally figured out my sexual orientation at age 37: by doing the serious self-examination that helps people grow after a tragedy. My therapist once called it Adam’s final gift to me.

This self-discovery meant that I had to end a 15-year marriage to someone I loved. We had to tell our kids that we were getting a divorce, and to this day it’s one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. It was an incredibly painful time in my life, but as is often the case, it was also one of the periods when I grew the most as a human and started to connect with my own story.

I learned to survive in a world without Adam, and I slowly learned more about who I was. Over the years, I had let myself fall into the trap that many parents do, where I was only doing things for other people and had nothing to call my own. I’d drive my kids around to their activities and wish I had something that was just mine. At the time, that wish felt selfish, but now I can see that it was probably healthy. In any case, it put me in a place where, when my friend Nick encouraged me to join the MGHA, I was ready to say yes.

It wasn’t long into my first season with the MGHA that I came to realize what a uniquely supportive community it is. My mentor Ingrid and my captains Trisha and Erik all helped set that tone, and so did pretty much everyone I came into contact with in the league. I learned at my own pace (fittingly glacial) and my then-girlfriend (now wife) told me that my skills improved drastically from the beginning of the season to the end.

My first year was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I focused on learning something new each game, even something small like climbing over the boards, so that I could celebrate those small wins. I was able to connect with my team, the league at large, and once again – myself. I loved having something to call my own. I loved talking about hockey and the MGHA to anyone who would listen, and I still love it to this day.

Once I forged those connections and realized that these were my people, I took advantage of the many opportunities to get more involved with the league. I applied for membership and volunteered to join the recruiting committee. Then I received an email asking if I wanted to be a captain. Of course I instantly wrote back saying it must be a mistake – me, a captain? I loved hockey, but I was still objectively terrible at it!

Eventually, I decided to jump in and see how I could help the league as a captain. I joined the Orange Crush team and was paired with Rob, who is an excellent hockey player and coach. I still didn’t have much in the way of technical skills, but the MGHA is so special in how it allows people to flourish and find their own unique style. I helped out with moral support, communication, keeping good vibes going in the locker room, and anything else I could contribute. It enabled me to connect in new ways with my own talents, as well as with people like Rob who balanced me out.

Our team didn’t win many games, but you would never know it if you’d come into our locker room after a loss – I’ve never been part of a team with that much of an upbeat attitude. It was a fantastic season: Everyone grew in terms of hockey knowledge, we were truly able to connect as a team, and it helped me learn even more about who I am as a person and a leader. To this day, when I look at that captain’s C on my jersey, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride.

The moral of the story is: If you want to start playing hockey at age 40, you can! If you want to be a captain even though you can’t skate backwards or do a perfect hockey stop, you can! Again, there are so many opportunities to get involved with the league.

In the end, gay hockey, for me, is a way to connect with my brother who’s no longer with us. It’s a way for me to connect with the parts of myself that I kept hidden for so long. And it’s a way to connect with amazing people who all promote the MGHA Way. It’s a beautiful rainbow connection that makes the MGHA an important part of my life and the lives of so many others.

“You play hockey?”

Hell yeah I do.

Austin “Cas” Hutchison – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023 Essay

Canada is big on hockey. From the age of 3, I was a lot like many other kids, lacing up skates I’d quickly outgrow and learning how to balance on ice. A stick soon gets put in your hands, and before you know it, you’re on a team with a bunch of other kids who hardly know how to avoid each other, never mind make a play with the puck.

You learn to skate backwards. You learn to crossover. You learn how to pass, shoot, find space. You learn a lot about the sport growing up in its birth place, but there was a distinct lack of focus through my years on learning what it means to be accepted in a community. Hockey as a culture demands much of its players, both physically and mentally. At all levels, while a coach asked you loudly to skate harder, they also demanded of you silently to sit down, shut up, and fall in line.

It got worse as I got older. The longer you play, the deeper culture gets ingrained. Inside the rink without a doubt, but outside of it too. You see teammates at school, in town, and eventually, for a 15 year old Cas (who wasn’t even going by Cas yet), you realize you’re trying to make your way through self-discovery while playing in a sport that wants nothing to do with you. The hazing culture as a teenager wasn’t anything I wanted to be a part of, certainly not when I was struggling with my own emotions off the ice in relation to being queer and trying to hide everything from a sporting world that would absolutely not have my back if they found out.

How was I sure of that?

I avoided the hazing. The coach himself, a middle aged man and father of one of the older players, made sure that in a practice I was the center point of abuse and violent drills as punishment.

Shut up and fall in line. That’s all it was. I loved the sport, but the sport didn’t really love me. So I left. I endured that year and ended my career at 16, not willing to be abused and be hidden for 2 more years. It really ate at me as an athlete, not having that sporting outlet. However, it let me breathe a little as the years went by. Sacrifice one thing to benefit elsewhere, that’s how I saw it. If I needed to drop the sport I loved to mentally be alright, that was okay. I attended some drop-in games over the years, I didn’t really talk. I moved to another part of Canada, the locker rooms had the same dread of heteronormative culture inside of them. So I showed up to pick-up, I grimaced at the jokes every day about women players and gay players, and I never spoke. Wasn’t worth it. I got to be on the ice again, and that was that.

Across the continent, my best friend and then MGHA player Soup was talking to me every day. I shared with him experiences, my worries, and in return he shared details about the league he was in. It sounded crazy, everything from the outward acceptance to the sheer size of the league. Maybe I could find something like that nearby.

Better than that, I found myself through a period of strife and discovery moving to city of Madison, and best friend became my partner. My partner, in the 2022 Classic, became a teammate. I got to see what it was like for the first time to enter dressing rooms where the air wasn’t choking the breath out of me for being queer, but in fact welcomed who I was.

I still didn’t talk a lot. I said hellos, and I listened. I nodded, I got a feel for how everyone was, and we played hockey. It was my first organized experience in a decade, then a 25 year old playing for the first time on a real team since I was a troubled teenager.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

The summer went by, and I was signed up ASAP for the 22-23 season. Nervous as hell, no real clue what to expect, but I had a goal to become more comfortable, play well, and let myself relax and enjoy a new environment that was unlike what I had growing up. Game by game, little by little, I talked a bit more, made a few more jokes, opted to try and help out where I could. My captains (shout out to Leif and Maddy!!) were incredibly welcoming, and were an amazing example of people who could make anyone feel like they belonged on and off the ice.

They, and everyone in this league, helped change the scope of what I came to expect from a locker room and of hockey itself. They gave me the confidence to start using pride tape, to put stickers on my helmet to display pride at any ice surface, and start to advocate for that same acceptance elsewhere. There’s honestly a sore gap in my heart as I type this with the season over, waiting for the next to start. I can’t wait for the 2023 Classic, and social meetups, and more events.

On top of that, I feel incredibly honored that I was asked to be a captain for a tournament team this year. I don’t think very highly of myself a lot of the time, and I think that’s an unfortunately shared experience of a lot of people within the queer spectrum. It’s laid on us by a lot of hate and discomfort over our lives, and communities like the MGHA are important to undo that.

Being given a chance to be a leader and help other people have the same experiences I did?

Couldn’t say yes fast enough.

This league helped change my life, and as long as I’m nearby, I’ll be playing in it and doing what I can to help it grow.

Canada is big on hockey, but the MGHA is big on its players. The hockey world needs this sort of focus if it’s going to change, and I don’t think there’s a better example out there of how to do it than this league.

Thank you everyone who I played with, and against. Thank you everyone who helps run the league, and every volunteer. Thank you Soup. You all do much more than you know.

Matthew Greene – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023 Essay

Deep breath in.

You’ve got this. All eyes on you. You’ve got this.

Shifting my weight, I looked down at my new cleats, bobbing my head to psych myself up. Navy blue socks covered my shin guards, a soccer ball between my feet.

Childhood me before a soccer game.

You’ve got this.

The boy ahead of me launched forward at the sound of the whistle.

You’re up next.

Behind me, I felt the sun on my neck, heating the number 12 emblazoned on my jersey’s back. A light breeze blew across the field, still soggy from melting snow. It was springtime in Rhode Island. I shifted my weight again, moving the ball to the outside of my foot.

The whistle blew.

Let’s do this! Use the outside of your cleat to push the ball out to the left, gather some speed, move the ball back to the right, take aim, and shoot!

I watched the ball leave my laces, racing towards the lower left corner of the goal. The goalie moved, but the ball was just out of reach. Relief flooded my body.

No way! I did it! I actually did it!

I was six years old, playing on my hometown’s boys’ travel soccer team. For the first time, I was on my own; my older sisters were no longer my teammates and protectors. And I’d done it. Here, at our first practice, during the very first drill, with all eyes on me, I’d scored a goal. Try as I might, I couldn’t stifle a grin and the feeling of pride in myself. I turned and started to jog to the back of the line, passing the coach.

“Oh great, we’ve got a Baryshnikov on the team,” he said, rolling his eyes as I went past.

That’s a weird word.

Practice continued with passing drills, throw-in lessons, and footwork training, darting and dodging through a course crafted by cones. With each minute my confidence grew. I might not be so bad at this soccer thing.

“Hey, Twinkle Toes, maybe you should try running like a boy!” I turned around, not sure what was happening, only to see the coach slapping his assistant on the shoulder, doubled over in fits of laughter. I looked to my left, to my right, wondering what was so funny.

“Yeah, you! Run like a boy, Greene!” shouted the coach, mockingly pronouncing the otherwise silent e at the end of my name.
I froze.

They’re talking to you. They’re laughing at you. What did you do wrong?

Time crawled as the other boys turned in slow motion, looking at me and laughing. Sure, some likely didn’t know why they were laughing, just that everybody else was, so they should, too.

“Stop running like a pansy!” the coach shouted at me, shaking his head.

As the years passed, I began to withdraw into myself, building an internal wall for self-preservation. Not once did I participate in any kind of athletic activity without hearing those words echo in my mind. I became concerned with how I stood, how I walked, how I ran, furtively studying those around me to try and understand what I was doing wrong. Season after season, year after year, I tried out for soccer, basketball, tennis, and volleyball, always with the same unsuccessful result — and the same comments, the same eyerolls.

Several years later, I was home alone on a fall afternoon while my sisters were off at soccer practice. I sat down at my family’s desktop computer, initiating the long, loud sequence of dialing into the internet. I was thirteen and the internet at home was still new and exciting, a whole world at your fingertips. I was discovering a new set of skills and interests and, opening the AOL browser, I pecked at the keys one by one, typing in C-Y-R-I-L-L-I-C. As the page loaded in increments, I sat there entranced, looking at the familiar yet odd letters, quietly pronouncing them: А а, Б б, В в, Г г, and so on. I’d become enthralled by languages and had begun spending my time collecting dictionaries, reading grammar books, and teaching myself to unlock the mysteries of new alphabets, first Greek and then Cyrillic. Russian history fascinated me and I’d spend hours turning the pages of books I couldn’t read, wondering what secrets were hidden among the shapes on the page and imagining how my life might be different if those were my letters, my language, my world. With the alphabet on the screen as my guide, I turned to a list of cognates in the textbook lying open in front of me. Slowly, I practiced sounding out each word — парк, театр, балет — eventually moving to full sentences with authentic Russian names. I froze: Михаил Барышников артист балета.

There before me stood the word that had rattled around inside my head for years, that coach’s voice filling my mind every time I kicked a soccer ball, dribbled a basketball, held a tennis racquet. One of the unanswered questions of my childhood was suddenly addressed: Mikhail Baryshnikov is a ballet dancer.

Though the Russian original referred to Baryshnikov more broadly as a ballet artist, the weight of the words “ballet dancer” crashed over me as I recognized the disdain behind the coach’s comments, a new layer added to what I’d already grasped so many years before. Nowadays there’s a double sting to it, for despite knowing that ballet dancers are among not only the strongest and most impressive athletes but also the most competitive, the pejorative connotation remains embedded in my mind, the taunts of my coaches and teammates still haunting, causing a conflict between logic and hurt.

That same refrain played in my head at the height of summer 2022 while hiking with my partner, Sean Hubbard, in the north of Wisconsin. As we wandered among waterfalls with temperatures climbing towards the triple digits, he asked me the most unexpected question: are you interested in playing hockey with me this year? For the past several winters, we’d spent time out on the Tenney Lagoon with him, an experienced skater and hockey player, helping me learn to skate properly, showing me how to receive a pass, and picking me back up after hitting the ice yet another time.

Hockey had interested me since childhood, with Friday nights often spent an hour from home at Schneider Arena on the campus of Providence College, my father’s alma mater, cheering on the team. It was also a sport, though, that was financially out of reach, compounded by a lack of nearby rinks. Now Sean was presenting me with the opportunity to learn and play with other beginners, in a league created by and for queer people. And still, I paused.

In my head, that pause was filled with the sound of children laughing, of being called Baryshnikov, Twinkle Toes, pansy, and more. Memories flashed through my mind of pushing myself at tryouts season after season, but never seeing my name on the final roster; of jogging on a treadmill while scanning the room through my peripherals to make sure no one was watching; of registering as a free agent for volleyball as an adult, but never being a part of a team. Would this be just one more experience to add to my rolodex of embarrassment?

I trusted Sean, though, and that night submitted my application to the Madison Gay Hockey Association. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that would come to be a defining moment. A few weeks later, I found myself sitting in the locker room with a host of other beginners being led through the different stages of dressing for hockey. As I pulled the laces on my skates tight, feeling the pads shift around me, nerves began to set in. Forcing the helmet down onto my head, I slid on my gloves, grabbed my stick, and wobbled towards the ice. My nerves increased and the same tired refrain set in in my mind, the jabs and taunts replaying again and again.

Trying to push those voices aside, a new one filled my ears, bellowing “Circle up!” In the center of the ice stood Mark Nessel, ready to lead our first training session. Patiently awaiting our arrival around him as we slipped, skidded, and fumbled across the ice, our surrogate coach for the evening looked at each of us individually, acknowledging our place alongside him. With a broad smile, he nodded in a slight bow. “Before we get underway, I want each of you to know how proud I am of you. Hockey is difficult. Hockey is fast. Coming out onto the ice at any age takes courage, and I admire each of you for your willingness to try something new as adults. Do your best. Have fun.”

In that moment, the wall within me wobbled: here before me stood a cisgender, heterosexual, masculine man about to lead an athletic training session and rather than chastise, taunt, or ignore me, he instead offered praise and encouragement. His next words shook that wall a bit more: “Now everybody, fall down!” We looked at each other, slightly confused, and again Mark cried, “I mean it! Let’s all fall down!” And we did. One by one, we all ended up on the ice, lying, kneeling, sitting, and Mark joined us, along with Amanda Thornton. Together, they demonstrated how to stand back up in such a way as to control your center of gravity and maintain your balance. “Now you know,” Mark said, looking at each of us individually again, “that it’s ok to hit the ice. And you also know that you have the skills, the knowledge, and the strength to get back up.” The wall started to teeter.

Stefa and me at a Blue Screen of Death Practice.

In the weeks and months that followed, the voices that had haunted me for so long diminished, replaced instead by the cheers of my teammates — and of the teams we faced. Together we celebrated our victories, with both teams erupting in cheers and whoops for every goal. Keeping score came to feel more like a formality than a necessity. On the ice, I found myself all too often locked in a dance with another team’s player as we held onto each other, trying to remain upright, ultimately descending into fits of laughter, the puck long forgotten. As my teammates came off the ice, we tapped gloves, congratulated each other on a great shift, and complimented strong skating and well-executed plays. At the start of the season, I’d chosen defense as my preferred position, the same I had played in soccer. From the first time we took the ice together, my fellow lines player Stefa Cartoni Casamitjana and I felt instantly connected, as if bound together by an invisible cord, one which pulled us together along the ice, thinking as one to protect our goalie, Laur Rivera.

Each week, another brick in my internal wall came down. For the first time, I found myself in an athletic environment that was supportive, queer, and truly and definitively centered around joy. Still, a part of me secretly hoped to score a goal by the end of the season, though chances of that seemed unlikely as a defender. Instead, I channeled my energy into improving as a skater and player and sharing what I’d figured out with those around me. In the penultimate week of play, Christy Churchill stepped in as a sub for our team, skating out for the first time! They joined us on the defensive line and it was an absolute joy to play with them and feel a sense of accomplishment as the season came to a close that I was able to share some of my own knowledge and insights. Directly following that game, I in turn subbed for my first time, joining Orange Crush, where I found myself playing left wing, my first time on offense. As the starting line took to the ice for face-off, I noticed the stands were surprisingly full, the largest crowd I’d ever seen at one of our hockey games.

After a few shift changes, I began to get my legs under me and my wits about me.

Don’t go too far back, you’re not on defense. Stay in position. Stay out here.

Our defense was locked in battle to protect the goalie from a yellow powerplay, working to clear the puck out of the zone.

There’s a gap over there where you’ll be open. That’s where you want to be.

The defensive line was successful and suddenly the puck was sliding towards me. Without thinking, I shifted my weight to rotate on my skates and leaned back onto my left skate. My stick cradled the puck and I launched forward off my left skate, gliding with my right.

It’s open ice now, nobody’s around!

I looked back over my shoulder — one on, but still plenty of space. The goalie’s eyes were locked on the puck, waiting for my move.

Use the blade to move the puck out a bit. Shift your weight. The lower left corner is open. Shoot!

Relief flooded my body. I’d done it, I’d actually done it. The stands erupted in cheers, but I could barely hear them — the goalie had just fished the puck out of the net and turned to look at me. We burst out laughing and I skated forward into Christy’s arms. Where minutes before we had been teammates, now we found ourselves opposing each other, but that meant nothing. As we hugged, I shouted, “I’m sorry, friend!” and they shouted, “Great shot, friend!”

The puck from my first MGHA goal.

Turning to skate back to my bench and finally hearing the cheers of my team and the spectators, I knew with that one shot, I’d destroyed the wall within me once and for all. I might not be so bad at this hockey thing.

I sat down on the bench, grinning.

Deep breath out.

Blue Screen of Death after playing in the L1 Championship.