Category: Essays

Maggie Stack – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2022-2023

“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 Essay – 2022-2023

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 Essay – 2022-2023

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.

Breanne Cyr – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

My story is long, but it’s been a long and winding road. (Or perhaps a wet and slushy ice rink?!) This, my
friends, is my journey to playing gay hockey and how it has helped me with “becoming a human again”
as I like to say. Not that I was ever actually not human, but you don’t always feel human when you don’t
feel like you fit in society, and you can’t trust your own body. Let me explain…

Period 1: Old and Gay
Once upon a time, back when I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to play hockey. However, the
options for joining a team were limited. As a girl, I could join the girls’ team along with the girls who’d
been skating since they could walk (umm…yikes!), or I could join a lower level “co-ed” team of all boys.
Great, as a sensitive pre-teen girl, joining a team of boys sounded like a recipe for disaster and was most
definitely out of the question. Thus, I concluded at the ripe age of 10, that I was definitely too old to
start playing hockey.

Instead, I joined a sport that was more acceptable and accessible to pre-teen girls: basketball. And I
hated it. I was the only one who had never played before, and my confusion showed. In my professional
photo, I had my jersey on backward, and that alone tells you about how well I did on the court. I felt
stupid and deficient. To this day, I have a sour spot for basketball.
The desire to play hockey remained in the back of my mind as I grew up. I considered it again in high
school, but I then became aware of the stigma that “girls who play hockey are gay.” In a time when I
just wanted to fit in and be “normal,” there was no way I’d risk people calling me “gay.” Hell no, I wasn’t

In reality, I’d never even considered the fact that I could be gay because growing up, we never learned
that relationships were anything other than a male and a female. I didn’t know anyone who was actually
gay and not just the derogatory “gay” that kids labeled each other around the turn of the century. I
wasn’t really into boys, and I wasn’t into make-up and other stereotypical teenage girl things, but I
thought I was just weird and broken. After all, it was better to be secretly immensely ashamed of being
weird and broken than to be gay, right?!

Toward the end of high school, one of my friends rekindled my desire to play hockey. She had found a
women’s rec league in town. Cool, we could join together and I wouldn’t look so “gay.” To our despair,
we then learned we had to be 18 (or 21?) and we were under the age limit – with no exceptions. Ok, so
now I was too young to play hockey!

Period 2: Betrayal by my body
My chance to play hockey in college (and the years thereafter) dwindled once again when I developed
debilitating health symptoms and all my life’s plans changed significantly. l often felt on the verge of
passing out, and I blacked out on my way to class a few times. My heart would race as if I were in the 3rd
period of a championship hockey game – just from standing up or sitting upright for too long. I had
constant dizziness, migraines, fatigue, nausea, sensory sensitivities, etc. My symptoms were countless
and all over the place. I was later diagnosed with an autoimmune neurological disease and
dysautonomia, a dysfunction of the body’s autonomic nervous system. Basically, my body was attacking
itself and cheating by making up its own rules instead of doing the normal body/organ functions. And
such cheating was not at all conducive to playing hockey.

My health declined further in the years following graduation. I was eventually mostly stuck at home. I
had trouble walking without assistance, I lived off tube feeding to my intestines, and I had IV lines in my
arms and chest. I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital for several years. Needless to say, things
were not good. I was much too sick to play hockey!

Period 3: Anxiety Takes the Reins
On top of the health fiasco, I was also becoming more and more isolated socially which also led to
depression. As an introvert with some level of social anxiety already, the isolation only solidified my
feelings of awkwardness and not knowing how to socialize like a human being. My friends eventually
moved away or fell out of contact with me because I was too sick to ever do anything or because they
feared what would happen to me. The ever-increasing isolation coupled with the fear that I could no
longer relate to anyone my age added up to some wicked social terror. It also led to some serious
internal debates about whether I had a place or purpose in society or whether I was just a burden taking
up resources. I was too anxious, depressed, and sick to play hockey!

But humans, like monkeys, are social animals. (I work with monkeys, hence the reference!). I was so
lonely and I longed for friendships, acquaintances, and connection. As my health improved, thanks to
finally finding the right (albeit expensive!) treatments, I ventured out into the world a bit. In all honestly,
I partly did it just enough to appease my therapist and let her know that I tried doing the whole social
thing and it sucked…and my first experiences did suck. As an academic, I just wanted there to be a
manual on “How to be a Human 101” that I could memorize so I could avoid all the awkward and
craptastic experiences. I couldn’t even socialize with others. I was clearly too awkward to play hockey!

Celebrating the Win – ie What Gay Hockey Means to Me:
With ongoing professional encouragement and because I’m a good student (even in therapy!), I finally
took the big leap and signed up to play hockey with MGHA. I paid the dues before my anxiety could
change my mind and tell me to back out. Then this really cool thing happened – I went to my first few
weeks of hockey, and each time, although I was physically drained, I felt energized and excited instead
of dejected and rejected. I didn’t want to wait another week before going back!

I’d never met such a welcoming, inclusive group of people before joining gay hockey. Upon meeting the
folks of MGHA, I felt an instant connection or sense of belonging that I haven’t felt in a long time – likely
since before I was that 10-year-old girl afraid to play hockey with the boys, concerned that I wasn’t
feminine enough or that I didn’t like boys enough. I truly believe this is because I finally feel safe and
comfortable being 100% me without having to hide part of myself or act the way I think I should act in
order to fit in.

Society tends to say tell us things like “Be yourself” and “Embrace your differences.” They tell us that
“Love is love,” and “Disabilities are just different abilities.” However, those words are rarely backed up
by action or genuine feelings of it being safe to believe it or celebrate it without being judged or othered
to some degree. Often, it feels like society says one thing, but means another. In MGHA, the actions and
sentiments are backed up with the genuine feeling of being accepted just as you are, however you are,
regardless of sexuality, disability, etc.

There is something special about being able to show up and feeling like you fit in, without that voice in
the back of your head wondering what people are really thinking and stressing about what you need to
do to appear “normal.” I don’t have to be the feminine female that society says (or means) I should be. I don’t have to have a husband or a traditional lucrative career and fancy home to feel like I fit in. And
unlike so many sports, I don’t feel like I have to be a skilled and super athletic player to feel like I deserve
a spot on the team. I can be awkward, fumble my words, or do something stupid, and they don’t look at
me funny and cast me aside – they embrace my awkward and keep talking to me as I relearn how to be

Through MGHA hockey, I’ve learned to push myself and recondition my body beyond what I ever
thought I’d be able to do again. Importantly, I’ve also to play within my limits; in other words, I don’t
have to stay on the ice until I am on the brink of passing out in order to please the team. MGHA has
taught me to push myself in all the right ways (even if that means holding back or taking a break) by
giving me a safe and supportive environment to do so. My teammates cheer me on and give me positive
feedback, even when I struggle, rather than reject me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have ongoing health struggles and medical hardware installed. I was (and
probably still am) hella awkward…but my MGHA people do not seem to mind. I’ve built acquaintances
and friendships. Heck, I even ended up unexpectedly finding a relationship through all my 1200 layers of

So what does gay hockey mean to me? Well, to put it in a more succinct fashion, it has helped me
become a human again, in both a physical and social sense. It’s shown me that “Embrace your
differences” and “It’s ok to be gay” are real sentiments, not words that may or may not be true. It’s
helped me venture back out into the world by providing a truly safe space and by empowering me to
feel confident in who I am as myself, not as who I think society wants me to be.

I could say that I’m sad that I didn’t start playing hockey way back at 10 years old when I first decided
that I wanted to play. Indeed, there is a part of me that’s sad that I’ve missed so many years of this great
sport, but the truth is, I don’t think I’d have had nearly as positive of an experience as I have with MGHA.
Like my one year playing basketball, I’d have probably felt stressed and deficient, decided I didn’t like
the sport, and then quit forever. I like this ending much better – the one where I can say “I am too
worth it NOT to be playing hockey!”

Leif Backus – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

I can’t forget the nasty shout: “Geez! What a bunch of dumb queers!”

That was what my coach said anytime we didn’t play well on my high school hockey team. And we rarely played up to his standards. The words were an emasculating disapproval to most and a bitter identification to me. Not aggressive enough. Not fast enough. Not physical enough. Hockey magnified my closeted shame such that even after hearing encouragement from my best friends, I didn’t play my senior year. But sometimes now, on Sunday evening, the joy I get from playing in the MGHA feels like a little, beautiful revolution. Instead of feeling anything negative, I cherish the freshly Zambonied wet ice, the unique rink smell, the sound of a puck drop, the sensation of rough ice under steel blades, a glove-on-glove congratulatory hi-five, the excitement of a beautiful goal, or the ‘ding’ of a shot hitting the post. I love the game. But more importantly, I love and feel deep gratitude towards all those who are the league/community as they cultivate the best part of the sport… and ourselves.

So to all MGHA-ers, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. “What a bunch of fun queers,
allies, and good people you are!” And don’t you forget it!

Maggie Stack – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

For me, joining the MGHA has been both a way to connect with a loved one’s memory and part of my
own journey of self-discovery.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I grew up in Minnesota, land of bait shops, Lutheran churches, and the North Stars. I actually never played hockey back then, but my little brother did, so our little sister and I got dragged to plenty of games and got a taste of what it means to be a hockey family.

Adam really liked hockey, but then we moved to Papua New Guinea and the equator isn’t really the place to find a flourishing hockey scene, so he switched to focusing on swimming instead and both he and my sister swam all the way through college.

As siblings, we stayed close through the years, and eventually a shift happened. The dynamic went from both of them looking up to me as the oldest, to my looking up to the two of them as just amazing humans in their own right. (There’s a point to all this, I swear. There’s also a twist that’s about to happen, so brace yourself.)

Anna and I both found careers in our respective fields (social work/case management for her, healthcare IT for me), while Adam ended up enlisting in the Army, where he became a Green Beret and had an incredible 8-year career (two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, too many awards to list). Then, in October 2016, he was killed in action, and my world ground to a halt.

Here’s the Facebook post I did the next day:

“My little brother Adam was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. He was kind and smart and funny and brave. He was 4 years younger, but he taught me to love the important things in life: dinosaurs and X-Men and Star Wars. He was the best brother anyone could ask for, and we’ll all feel his loss forever.”

Adam’s death was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, by a factor of millions. I simply couldn’t handle it, despite having an amazing support system. But – even in the middle of the darkest time of my life – it spurred me on a journey of my own, a super gay journey that ultimately led me to the MGHA (see? I didn’t forget what this essay is about!).

I wrote about that journey on Facebook on October 10th, 2019 (the day before National Coming Out Day because I just got too excited to wait to post it):

“I think most of my Facebook community knows that the last few years have been sort of…well, hectic. It’s been 3 years since my little brother Adam died. I posted about that. I almost killed myself because I felt really sad. I posted about that too. But believe it or not, there’s some stuff that the broader Facebook community maybe doesn’t know yet, and I’m hoping someone finds this useful. It took me until I was 35 years old to figure out that I was gay. No – strike that – it took a catastrophic life event to strip me down to the point where I was able to admit to myself that I was gay.

Three years ago, it was intensive therapy that saved my life. Therapy is hard emotional work. It sucks sometimes. And – like every sci-fi movie ever – sometimes you bring stuff up from the depths that you didn’t mean to. In my case, that meant my gayness. At one point, I was finally able to process my feelings about Adam, but my therapist said he felt like there was something I still wasn’t being honest with myself about. I don’t know if he just got a gay vibe from all the flannel I wear or if he didn’t even know what the thing was, but I went away and thought about it and finally – undoing many long years of lying to myself – realized that he was right.

My next therapy session, I couldn’t quite meet his eyes, but I did manage to blurt out “I’m questioning
my sexuality.” I didn’t even say the words “I’m gay” yet. And he just looked at me. I paused and there
was a long awkward moment, and then he said “You literally thought the world was going to end, didn’t
you?” And I said, “I literally did.” So that was the first time I ever said it out loud.

Now – this is not a “yay Maggie” story. I don’t think I’m brave or special or anything. If you’re wondering
why I even feel the need to “come out” publicly, I guess it’s a) informational for people in my life that I
don’t see every day who didn’t know this already, and b) a message for anyone who’s struggling with
similar issues that you can make your way out on the other end and survive. The reason it’s really not a
“yay Maggie” story is that obviously this has had a huge impact on my family.

My own parents happen to be super woke and I love them. When I first told them I was gay, they were
on speakerphone like all adorable parents are. My mom said “I love you and you’ll always be my little
girl.” And my dad said, “Well, that explains how you felt about the pink Power Ranger in 7th grade.”
(Yep, Dad, it sure does.) So I’m lucky. My family of origin was super cool with this. My sister Anna is amazing and supportive as always, and I know that Adam would have been super supportive and funny and probably made the best gay jokes.

But obviously, it’s my family of today that has been most affected by this. Steven is an amazing human and has helped dozens of LGBTQ teens throughout the years, so he’s been great about this whole situation. But divorce is hard, even a really amicable one like ours. He’s still my best friend and the best guy I’ve ever known. We’ve been reconfiguring our family for the last couple of years now, and it’s hard work. Sometimes it sucks, for the kids especially. Sometimes it sucks for Steven. It’s been hard on all of them, and I don’t want to minimize that. But if I hadn’t moved forward, I don’t know what would have happened. You have to live your truth, as the cliché goes.

Anyway. Again, I’m lucky. Amazingly lucky. My family, my friends, my coworkers – everyone I’ve told has been unbelievably supportive. (And to be honest, no one seems that surprised. I mean, it really is a LOT of flannel.) I even have an awesome girlfriend, Emily Hansel. So I guess now if you see me holding hands with some woman, you can be appropriately grossed out by our PDA but at least not be super shocked. She’s been on a journey of her own, and I don’t know if she really understands just how much she’s helping me with mine.

Anyway, that’s it. All the therapy, the gay stuff included, has really really helped me, to the point where I don’t think about killing myself all the time. So that’s a pretty big win for someone in my situation. (Side note: It’s weird because who I’m attracted to doesn’t seem like it should be such a big deal when you look at all the other things that make up a person. For example: I like Pop-Tarts better when they’re untoasted. I won’t use self-checkout because I’m afraid it will yell at me to put items in the bag that are already in the bag. My favorite animal is the majestic wombat. My biggest weakness is Tostitos with a Hint of Lime. I still love my kids more than anything and I still love Steven and I still think the pink Power Ranger was like the hottest person ever. Basically…I’m still me.)

So. If you’re curious, if you have questions like “how could she not know?” I would love to grab a coffee sometime and tell you all about the power of denial. Seriously. I’m happy to answer questions people have or whatever. And for sure, if you’re going through something similar, I’m always here to listen.”
<end incredibly long Facebook post>

Fast-forward to fall 2021. I’m super out and proud. I’m a 40-year-old woman with a 15-year career, two amazing kids, the same awesome girlfriend (Emily), and a sad lack of her own activities. I mostly shuttle the kids around and go to Emily’s sporting events to cheer her on. But I desperately wanted a thing, something to call my own.

Then one day, my next-door office neighbor Nick said “You should join the MGHA!” He’s been a member for a long time and has mentioned it from time to time, but I never thought about it seriously because how would I find the time? But for some reason, this time, I thought, “I should join the MGHA!” I asked him some questions, talked it over with my girlfriend (who was incredibly supportive), and decided to apply. I didn’t get in. The league was full.

Not gonna lie, I took it pretty hard. I remember ranting to Nick about how I just wanted something that was mine, and it sucks that I got my hopes up, and on and on. (He puts up with a lot.) I didn’t blame the MGHA, it made sense that the league was full, but I wasn’t too happy with the universe. Then there must have been a cancellation because I got an email offering me a spot! I was assigned a mentor, the incredible Ingrid, and she was the most patient person ever because I knew nothing. Ingrid very kindly met me at Play It Again Sports to help me find gear, and like a nerd I printed out the shopping list from the MGHA website and checked off items as we found them. I still to this day pack my hockey bag exactly like Ingrid taught me (one glove inside the helmet, shin guards inside the breezers to save room). I’ve only skated maybe once or twice per year since I was a kid, so I’m sure I looked like Bambi on the ice
that first time. But I tell you – the first time I hit a puck with my stick, I felt like I was home. It became pretty apparent, in those early skills clinics, practices, and scrimmages, that I was downright
terrible at hockey. I was routinely the slowest one out there, I could never skate backwards, and the first few times I tried to hit the puck I would overbalance and sometimes fall down. No one in the league – not a single person – ever made me feel bad about it. I have never been in a more supportive, encouraging, loving environment. And this is a sport known for knocking men’s teeth out!

I got assigned to a team, the yellow team, Team Caution! (The exclamation point is part of the name.) I was only slightly disappointed when my team name, Seven Deadly Suns, didn’t get chosen, but I came to embrace the theme and chose the name “Wrong Way” for my jersey. The team was wonderful. There wasn’t a single person who rubbed me the wrong way, and I would be happy to get a beer with any of them. (Seriously, Team Caution!, hit me up: Our captains, Trisha and Eric, helped set an atmosphere that was welcoming and encouraging and prioritized team play, like making good passes.

And my support system – ah, my support system! Emily came to every single game she could and always had words of encouragement for me. My sister came down and went to a game (and loved it). Lots of my friends rotated through coming to various games, and Emily’s parents even surprised us at the rink one night! But my favorite was when my younger daughter was able to come to games – seeing how proud she was meant the world to me.

I played left or right wing and gradually came to remember that we switched sides every period, so left and right were on new sides. I only went to the wrong side a couple of times (living up to my name, Wrong Way). And I got better! Emily said she could see a huge difference between my first game and my last. My last game was my best game. I still didn’t manage to score a goal all year, but I did get a couple of assists, which I’m really proud of. In that last game, there was one time I was playing right wing, racing down to our offensive zone with Meg at center and Zach at left wing. Zach passed it to Meg, who passed it to me, and I took the shot – but their goalie is amazing and she saved it.

Zach said “Good shot, Maggie!”

Meg said “Good shot, Maggie!”

And Gabby – their goalie – said “Good shot, Maggie!”

That moment captured the essence of the MGHA Way. Experienced players, even from the other team,
encouraging a new player who did her best.

Our captain Trisha gave each person a word at the end of the season, to capture how their season went. The word she chose for me was ‘Wonder’, and she wrote, “You enjoy the game and bring that joy to your teammates. Relearning the game alongside you boosts the morale of our team and refreshes our love of the game.”

So what does Madison gay hockey mean to me? It’s a chance to connect with and remember Adam. It’s a step on my own journey of self-discovery. It’s an opportunity to meet amazing people. And, perhaps most of all, it’s a way of life, of celebrating kindness, inclusion, and teamwork. I want to be someone who embodies the MGHA Way.

Thank you for reading! If anything in here resonated with you, feel free to email me at the email address above, or find me on Facebook as Maggie Claire.

Dexter Lane – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

No photo description available.

My earliest memory of hockey is from elementary school. I came home from school and told my father that I quit soccer so I could play hockey instead. He told me absolutely not and signed me up for girl scouts. I grew up playing soccer from then on. I played many other sports through the years, but soccer was always my constant. I was engaged in sports year-round until my junior year of high school. Shortly after I graduated high school in 2009, I got sick, and after months of tests, procedures, and surgeries, I was finally able to come back home. I was given a prescription for Percocet, and I flew through them. This really opened the door for my addiction, and for the next several years I used a variety of drugs daily.

It’s fair to say that I have very little recollection of a large portion of 2015. I was living in Madison, and I woke up on the top of a parking ramp in West Virginia with almost no memory of how I got there. I came home and overdosed for the final time, less than a week later. After being taken to the emergency department and receiving Narcan, I spent the next three days in the hospital. I have almost no memory of my time at the hospital. What I do remember is the doctors telling me that if I would have gone home and gone to sleep, I would not have woken up. Within weeks I found a treatment center in the area that felt right for me, and I dove in. I made my recovery my full-time job.

I had many obstacles to overcome, but something that always seemed to pull me down was boredom. I had received emails from Patrick Farabaugh asking if I was interested in playing hockey.  With a lot of hesitation and fear, I made the jump. I laced up skates for the first time just days before the evaluations. I walked into that building not knowing a single person. I specifically remember Leah Rudin watching me try to tie my skates. When I looked up, she gave me a smile and said, “Can I show you a trick?” I use that same trick to this day. When I started hobbling to the ice, Christina Libs said, “You’ll need one of these.” as she tossed me one of her old jerseys with an “A” on it. She said, “Look at that, you are already an assistant captain.”  As my skate gilded onto the ice for the first time, I grasped tightly to the boards. I must have looked up with a face of pure panic because Molly Costello looked at me and said, “Hey, you got this.”  That first day on skates was one of the first solid memories I have after I found sobriety.

My first year of hockey wasn’t pretty, on or off the ice. On the ice, I was not the best skater. I had a tough time with the rules and was extremely quiet. Off the ice, I was dealing with a lot of anger. The first year of sobriety is hard for anyone, and another one of my biggest struggles was anger. I had spent the last five years numb and was finally starting to feel everything I had been suppressing. Looking back on the first year or two of hockey, admittedly, it was not the best reflection of who I wanted to be.

The entire first year of hockey, most people did not know I identified as a transman. I was not a very social human, and outside of Rainbow Kate, I really didn’t connect with anyone in the MGHA right away. It wasn’t until the beginning of the second year that I came out as a transman in all aspects of my life. The MGHA was the newest community I was a part of, but it instantly made me feel the most welcome when it came to how I was going to identify. It was the first space I was a part of where someone asked me and respected my pronouns.

When I reflect on where I started my journey versus where I am, I can’t thank hockey and the MGHA enough. Hockey gave me a place to go when just that was all I needed. MGHA was the first place I was able to feel completely like myself. It was the first place I could comfortably walk in a space and say, “My name is Dex, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m in recovery.” Those were two huge parts of my identity that I was hiding in different areas of my life. I was never made to feel uncomfortable for being in recovery, nor did I ever feel left out. I was still always invited out after games. Connection was difficult for me for many years, and if I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the last several years that I really started to open up and make deeper connections at MGHA. I feel that last year has been the best reflection of the true me. I feel more involved, have more patience, and have made so many meaningful connections. To quote Johann Hari, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”  I came here angry, alone, and closed off. Hockey and the MGHA family have helped me find that connection was possible for me and gave me something to feel passionate about.

MGHA May 2022 News

MGHA Members elect 7 to MGHA Board of Directors for 2022-2023 season

The new board met in May to select their roles and focuses for the 2022-2023 season. Read more about the board and our individual responsibilities on the MGHA Board of Directors page. Contact us at any time –

Avery Cordingley, President

Leads the board of directors to implement programs that align with the league’s mission to sustain and grow the MGHA. Highest escalation point. Special focus on hockey operations, skills development and coaching.

Brett (Bront) Rojec, Registrawr

Manages USA hockey registrations, assists gear program and website development.

Christina Libs. [web]Secretary

Manages league-wide communication and documentation using the website, email, and meeting notes. Special focus to support hockey operations and coaching program development.

Gabby Grandin. HOPs Program Manager

Manages captains, coaches, mentorship programs, within Hockey Operations.

Gene Zadzilka, Treasurer 

Manages yearly budget, oversees Grant & Financial Aid Programs, bookkeeping, and sponsorships.

Laur Rivera, Conductor

Manages league-wide conduct standards, goalie operations, and recruiting.

Nat Carlston, Pro Socialite

Manages social communications, social media accounts, and recruiting.

New player applications are open

We recruit many players by word of mouth, so send your friends and fam to our Player Application Page at any time throughout the season. As always, the sooner the better – having accurate numbers help us budget and balance play as we grow.

Returning players will be able to reserve their spot for next season starting in June. Stay tuned here on our website and on email for more news and all the details for next season.

What Gay Hockey Means to Me” Essays released and winner announcement

This year we received four new essay responses – our players’ stories – in response to our yearly call to reflect on “What Gay Hockey Means to Me”. We encourage everyone to read each essay as they represent a unique blend of our community’s stories, and help us connect to each other off the ice.

Breanne Cyr’s Essay

Dexter Lane’s Essay

Leif Backus’ Story

Maggie Stack’s Essay

Join us in congratulating this year’s winner – Dexter Lane! Dex’s MGHA dues will be covered next year, and he’ll have a photo shoot to accompany his essay being featured in Our Lives Magazine.


Thanks for reading – we hope to see you out(side) in June! ☀

2019-2020 “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 9 people respond and as always, these essays reflect the beauty and diversity of meaningful experiences.

Check out these essay previews and click the links below each picture to read the full essay.

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

Avery’s Essay and Profile
Avery’s 2019-2020 essay won this year and will be featured in Our Lives Magazine.
Alpha’s Essay and Profile

Martha’s Essay and Profile
Bryam’s Essay and Profile
Grayson’s Essay and Profile
Ian’s Essay and Profile
Julie’s Essay and Profile
Karoliina’s Essay and Profile
Nat’s Essay and Profile

Bryan Zaramba – 2019-2020 Essay

“while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me.”

Bryan’s Profile

What does the MGHA mean to me? When I sat down to write about what the MGHA means to me, it was shocking to me how quickly I realized my feelings about the MGHA could be distilled into a single word: love. Love from others in a supportive, caring community; and love for myself as a gay man in that community, and as an athlete.

I joined the MGHA in 2018, on the recommendation of a stranger on the internet, at a time of enormous change in my life. I was in the process of moving, by myself, from my lifelong home in New England to Wisconsin, a state I had been to only twice and knew exactly one person. Knowing that I would need to make friends, I asked Reddit where to meet gay people in Madison, and a former member of the MGHA messaged me and recommended that I join. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played organized sports since middle school, when I had been allowed to quit baseball after getting hit in the face three practices in a row, I put in an application.

My first year in the MGHA is a bit of a blur to me, even just a year later. So much was happening in my life–learning a new job, finding my way around a new city, figuring out how to live by myself–but the MGHA became a source of stability and joy in my life. As the months went on, I started spending most of the week waiting for Sunday night, and for the Wednesdays when I and my new friends would go to the Shell for extra skating practice. 

Initially, while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me. For the first time in a very long time, I was doing something physical that required patience and practice, and I could feel myself getting better, week after week. After years of complacency in my personal life, I had forgotten what it felt like to be proud of my achievements, and the MGHA gave me the opportunity to play a game and to genuinely enjoy the process of getting better. The inclusive style of play in MGHA allowed me to feel like I was contributing, even while I was falling down, or whiffing the puck, or turning so slowly I was behind the other team’s defense when they whisked by me. 

On the ice, the MGHA has given me the space to learn who I am as an athlete after a lifetime of thinking of myself as a watcher of sports, not a participant. But off the ice, the MGHA has provided me with something even more valuable: a community that genuinely cares about each other, both on an individual level and on an institutional level.

One of the things that struck me most about the MGHA was the earnest friendliness of almost everyone in the league. Coming from New England, a place where people are generally reserved about making new friends, I was pleasantly surprised about how open people in the MGHA were to sitting next to new people in the stands and inviting those people into their circles of friends. 

This year, I decided to volunteer as a captain and on a number of committees to help give back to the community. What I appreciate most about participating on the “back end” of the MGHA is how that spirit of friendliness and inclusion is cultivated, intentionally, at the institutional level. It’s not just that I happened to sit next to people who were friendly last year; it’s that the volunteers who run the MGHA put hours of thoughtful discussion and effort into making the MGHA a positive experience for everyone who participates. Sometimes they’re faced with tough decisions that not everyone is happy with, but they make those decisions with a spirit of giving back to their community. 

But the MGHA isn’t just an exceptionally friendly developmental hockey league. It’s also an explicitly LGBTQ-friendly space, and it is unlike any I’ve ever been in before. What I love about the MGHA as a space for LGBTQ-identifying people is that, as a player and member, it feels so effortlessly supportive of everyone’s gender identity and sexual orientation, while focusing on your inclusion in the hockey community and your development as a player. Before I came out, one of my biggest concerns was that I felt like I didn’t belong in gay spaces because being gay wasn’t a central part of my identity, and I didn’t feel “gay enough.” For me, the revelatory experience of joining the MGHA was finding a gay space that didn’t feel like it was making assumptions about who I was, or what I wanted out of that space. The MGHA is set up to give each player (or fan in the stands) the space to bring who they are to the table, and to encourage all of us to be supportive and understanding as we figure out what exactly that is.

So, what does gay hockey mean to me? It’s my life, it’s my friends, it’s my community. And if it’s not already yours, I hope you join soon.