Category: 23-24 Essays

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.