Gay For Play

An Angel Gets His Wings

Jeff Adams is the only Boxer that could get us to switch from briefs.

A standout D-man for the NYCGHA Boxers, Jeff helped us recruit some players for this little team, and we’re thanful. That makes him our de facto GM, too. If we can sign Avery as coach we’ll be set.

He’s covering his Wings from afar (ignoring the Ranger usurpers), but the miles in between don’t dampen his enthusiasm in the least. Jeff bleeds Red.

“So how is it that a guy in New York is writing about the Red Wings and not the Rangers or the Islanders?  When you’re born in Flint, Michigan, I think a lifelong connection to the Red Wings is in your blood.

My family left Michigan in 1978 when I was 10. That didn’t matter—hockey was still the only sport that I followed and the Red Wings were my team.

There were years the Wings weren’t the easiest team to follow. We moved from Michigan to Alabama. This is before the internet, before sports was all over the cable dial and when the south didn’t really acknowledge hockey. ESPN and USA Network got me through the 80s and by the 90s the game was fairly easy to follow again.”

It was not easy to live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and be a hockey fan—especially if it was the only sport you liked. Not being a fan of Crimson Tide football was frowned on and helped cast me as the geeky-nerd even more than I already was. I was an avid reader, into computers, worked on the school newspaper and already had my liking for musical theatre in place.

I was able to introduce some of my friends to live hockey in 1992 when the East Coast Hockey League’s Birmingham Bulls arrived. It was incredible to have minor league hockey at cheap prices (I seem to recall getting rink side seats for $15). If I wanted to drive a little further, there was also the IHL’s Atlanta Knights to watch.

In 1993, I moved cross-country out to Eureka, California, and that put me within driving distance (albeit a long drive) of the San Jose Sharks. In 1998, I went cross-country again to land in NYC, putting the Rangers very close at hand. I go a few times a year to Rangers games, primarily to see opponents that I do like.

So why hockey as the only sport I follow? For one thing, it’s fast. There’s an energy during the game that I don’t think any other sport can match. It’s an energy that reverberates through a TV and is even more frenetic when you’re actually in an arena. As much skill as there is in the game, there’s a good bit of chance and luck. The puck can take a weird bounce off the ice or the boards and the unplanned and unexpected results. It can work for your team or work against it.

Now the Red Wings are not the only team on my radar. I’ve been a major fan of the Penguins since the mid-80s when Mario Lemieux arrived on the scene. Watching him play was nothing short of amazing.

I’ve continued my love the Penguins with players like Jaromir Jagr (and, yes, I’m one of those people saddened that Jagr  went to the Flyers this year instead of back to his NHL roots) and Sidney Crosby.

This dual fandom does get me into trouble, especially with friends who are Penguins fanatics. However, I think it’s good to have a team that you’re crazy about in both conferences. Let’s face it, for the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, I was very happy since I could be pleased with the outcome no matter what.

Beyond being a hockey fan, over the past few years I’ve transformed into a player as well. After years—decades actually—of not being sporty, the sports bug bit and I learned how to ice skate in the fall of 2001 and play the game in early 2002. I connected with the New York City Gay Hockey Association and got a spot on one of their beginner teams in April 2002.

I developed a new respect for the game when I started trying to play it…and in those early days I do mean trying. Skating, keeping up with the movement of the game, keeping an eye on the puck. God forbid I should actually get the puck and then have to do something with it. I started out as a wing and at later I moved to center. There was a game that one of the centers got hurt, and simply because of my size I got put into that position since the size could be a bonus in defensive play. I loved center, especially the freedom of movement. Within a  season or two though I settled into playing defense with an occasional stint at center if the team was short on forwards and stocked up on D in a given week.

I dropped back to the childhood that I skipped as well. I routinely went to an early Saturday morning practice session that featured a mix of ages and skills. In the winter, we’d get started at 4 or 5 in the morning and as the weather warmed the time would move to 6 and eventually 8. It was always an hour of coached drills and an hour of scrimmage. The ice time was great, but what was really awesome about this was playing with the wide array of skill sets. Players who were much better than me, ones that I would never play with in league because I’m not good enough to be in their division, would play with the more novices players.

And I do mean play, they wouldn’t leave anyone out of the game and ultimately would help coach the newbies as well. The person who coordinated the session, worked to make sure everyone who participated had a good, inclusive attitude. There was definitely competition, but it was all good-natured and a fun time. Sadly, late this summer the coordinator retired from the rink and the early morning sessions retired with him. With fall beginning I’m already missing being at the rink before dawn.

Currently I play on two teams for the NYCGHA, I’m a full-time player on the Boxers (a team that debuted in the spring of 2011) and a yet-to-be-named team that plays in a lower division. Over the years I’ve played on as many as three teams at one time spread across different divisions. I’ve done some seasons as captain for NYCGHA teams as well as a team that played outside the association. I’ve also played yearly in the NYCGHA’s Chelsea Challenge, which brings together gay and gay-friendly hockey players in NYC for a weekend of competition each June. I also went to the 2006 Outgames in Montreal with the NYCGHA’s Wizards.

I’ve worked with the NYCGHA quite a bit too. I served for a few years on the executive board, initially as secretary and then as communications director.  While I was on the board, and even after I left the board, one of my passions was to work with new players to get them into the organization, trained on how to play and ultimately on to teams and actively playing.

Having played for years now, I can tell you there’s no difference between a gay and straight player. We’re all out there hustling for the puck and playing a fiercely physical and demanding game. I’m out and proud on the ice at all times, even when I’m not in an NYCGHA uniform. On the back of my helmet for the past few years I’ve displayed a rainbow triangle to make it know there is a gay player on the ice, one who is quite willing to take on any opponent who comes into my zone looking to score on my goalie.”

You are hereby commanded to follow Jeff on the Twitter: @HockeyGuyNYC

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About Craig

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11 Responses to Gay For Play

  1. Adam says:

    Wonderful post!

  2. Matthew Skolnikoff says:

    Great article! Hope to hear more about your NYCGHA games in the future (as well as articles on the Red Wings). And I liked your comment that there’s no difference between a gay player and a straight player… ice is a level playing field after all!

    • Thanks, Matthew. I’m sure you’ll read more about the NYCGHA and the games we play from both me and Brian in the future. For what it’s worth, you can read about the games I play over on my website (jeffandwill.com). I usually have something to say about each week’s game(s).

  3. GayCanuck says:

    Nice article, Jeff! Gosh, I’m starting to feel inferior next to all these hockey-playing homos now writing for PB. The closest I’ve come to playing hockey was desperately trying to stay vertical on ice-skates at Rockefeller Plaza.

  4. This is terrific! The only problem is, I no longer don’t have the “born and raised Southern, didn’t move up north until I was 30″ excuse to justify my lack of coordination on ice skates.

  5. Andrew says:

    Great read and great story! And by the by, your site is AMAZING. Love it.

    And to any other commentors, don’t feel bad. I’ve lived in the shadow of the Maple Leafs since birth and still can’t skate to save my life. Not from lack of trying, but by god, I just suck something awful.

  6. GreenEyedLilo and Andrew, I’m sure you could find coordination on skates. I did, it just took a class and a lot of practice. But it is completely doable.

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