“It’s tough, it’s fast, and you better be highly skilled,” says the Chicago pol bluntly. “Believe me, I’ve got my share of bruises and stitches over the years. There’s a brutal beauty to it.”
You could be forgiven for thinking the not-quite-second term Democrat, and former Cook County Commissioner, was talking about politics – Chicago-style or otherwise. But he’s talking about his other hard-knocks passion: hockey.
Stocky and pugnacious, Rep. Quigley looks and talks like a guy who’s been around the rink a few million times. He should. “I’ve been playing since I was eight years old, skating around on old frozen lagoons,” he says. “20 degrees below zero, all of that. And I never stopped. I played every chance I could get.”
Quigley loves everything about hockey. Watching it: “Sitting at the old Chicago Stadium – 3rd row, 2nd box behind the blue line – man, that place just shook. Never shoulda torn it down.” Playing it: “My favorite play out there is setting up a bang-bang play, you know, a real good-looking goal.” Even tweaking his opponents about it: “When I was Cook County commissioner, I passed this resolution, right before the Winter Classic between Detroit and the Blackhawks. All the where-as’s and here-to-for’s…but if you read every red capitalized letter, it spells out “DETROIT SUCKS.” (We checked it out. He really did.)
Before we can point out the actual winner of that game, he moves on to his latest mission: spreading hockey far and wide. Rep. Quigley is a member of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, a player on the congressional team, and a huge booster of the USA Warrior Ice Hockey program.
The NHL may be getting PR mileage out of it’s “Hockey is for Everyone” slogan, but for Quigley it’s not just a toss-off. In fact, he’s probably stretching it beyond where the NHL big boys even intended.
For example, on Tuesday – before boarding a plane back to the circus that is DC these days – he, Niklas Hjalmarsson and the cuss-tastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a youth hockey clinic for disadvantaged youth at Chicago’s Center on Halsted. Mere political stunt? Maybe not, once you consider that the Center is perhaps the nation’s premier gay/lesbian community center. Among their many programs is one that provides care to LGBT youth who’ve been tossed out of their homes for being gay. Consider also that when he, the mayor and the cameras split, the kids were left with more than a handshake. Quigley and the Blackhawks donated field hockey gear for the kid’s permanent use.
Glad-handing TV photo-op with Niklas Hjalmarsson for constituents? Political stunt. Donating field hockey equipment to disadvantaged LGBT kids so they can have a shot at normalcy? Priceless.
This Thursday, Rep. Quigley was scheduled to hit the ice and play against the Wounded Warriors. “These guys want a good, hard game. I want to give them one, just like anyone else.”
Of course, that was before the White House and Speaker Boehner’s office started their slap-fight about when the President could please, pretty please, come speak before Congress. With the Warrior game set for 7pm, the same time as Obama’s speech, members like Quigley who planned on suiting up are in a jam.
Still, there’s no debate about his desire to see that anyone who wants to get out on the ice actually has that opportunity – disadvantaged LGT youth, wounded combat veterans, or anyone else. He’s filled with stories of what other people tell him the game means to them, and easily falls into another.
“There was an event with the Caps and USA Hockey and the Wounded Warriors. I met these guys, got out on the ice with them. When I was there I met a guy, a veteran, who was told he could keep his leg, but it wouldn’t be much use. He’d certainly never play hockey again.”
As happens in stories like this, the doctors were wrong. Turns out it’s pretty damn hard to keep a guy (or gal) off the ice who loves the game. “I ask him ‘Why do you do this?'” Quigley says. “The guy says ‘I can’t help it. I get in the rink and I smell the ice, and I just gotta get out there.'”
Before you can ask about that guy, or those games, or this cause, the fast-talking Quigley falls into yet another story. “I’m reminded about Arthur Ashe. He didn’t want tennis to just be a country-club activity, but he knew that meant you had to give people access – a place to play, just the basics. It’s like that with hockey. I want to make sure that anyone who wants to get out on the ice has that opportunity.”
Few would question that if you want to succeed in hockey, or in politics, you’ve got to be tough, competitive, a little lucky, and just plain better than the next guy. That’s the kind of thing he wants people to learn from the sport: how to compete, how to play as a team, and most importantly, how to believe in yourself – despite anything that others may see as a ‘disability.’
Rep. Quigley’s cell phone is fading out – he’s working his district hard. That’s what a brawling Chicago pol does. But before it fades completely, he offers one more story.
“There was this guy, maybe in his 70’s, I used to see all the time at Blackhawks games. He was blind, and used to have this little radio up against his ear, listening to the call. You could see it was real hard for him to hear it. One day I start talking to him and I ask if it’s worth it – he can’t see the game at all. He says ‘I don’t have to see it. I can feel it.'”
We know nothing about his politics. But it’s clear to us that Mike Quigley feels hockey way down deep.