Zach is a gay hockey player. He’s been skating since he was a kid and moved up through the ranks from his area’s youth hockey leagues to where he is now, playing D for a perennial powerhouse high school team in the upper Midwest – a program that is no stranger to the playoffs and championships.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish installments of our conversations with him. We asked him about his years from mite to high school player, the hockey family and culture, what it’s like to be a gay player, what an out NHL player may face and his plans following graduation.
“Zach” is a nom de rink and we agreed to protect his identity. As the season progresses, he may choose to be more public as an out gay player, but no matter what he decides, we thank him for his time, sincerity and trust.
Speaking of trust, we’re all too aware of stories similar to this that have surfaced in the last few years; stories that turned out to be fabrications or of questionable authenticity. We understand that some may approach this with a degree of healthy skepticism. We keenly understand how fragile trust can be.
Lastly, as we were pulling the interview together, news of Jack Jablonski’s injury surfaced. His story of heartbreak and hope has reverberated around the wider hockey family. Jabs and Zach come from the same world and share similar passions for the game as high school players.
Gay or straight, the risks of injury are there for all players at any level of the game. We’ve asked Zach to stay safe and to be extra careful out there and we ask everyone to consider a donation to Jack’s fund.
After the jump, we start with Zach’s thoughts on the hockey experience and how that’s evolved for him over the years.
Let’s start at the top, what has playing hockey mean to you?
Zach: I mean it’s really a lot more than just the game itself. It’s really more of the overall experience, especially for me. Everything- it’s not just the game, it’s not just the practices- It really expands more, I guess it’s a fuller experience. Going to hockey, it’s like you go from school- you bus there, you drive over with your buddies, you go get food first, you know, that’s quality bonding time at your Noodles or your Chipotle or wherever you go before the game, and then you go to the locker room and you sit in the locker room and hang out with your buddies for another 30 minutes, crack jokes, you know- that’s more fun.
You get out on the ice, and especially Junior League puck, it’s just, you know, a Gong Show, and it’s just a bunch of fun. And then practice, that you know, you’ve got to go up to the workout room and do that whole thing. So I mean, really, it’s more the whole experience for me, the full on, it’s not just the game or what comes along with the game, it’s the time with my buddies.
What’s a typical practice and game day like?
Zach: It depends on the day; there’s like a Saturday game and then there’s like a weekday game where we have school prior. More and more frequently we’ll have a school day game, and I mean that’s even more intense. I mean you have all the boys from junior and varsity wearing their khakis with their white shirt and a tie and their hockey jackets from school.
We like to eat. You know-we go get food, and we go over to the arena to catch the bus and go wherever we’re going. We get there and do our team jog around our rink before our game, So, it’s, really, It’s a full night’s work. I mean- you’ve got to really put homework aside and just get on with what you’re going to do.
How has the experience changed over the years?
Zach: It’s definitely changed over the years. I mean, originally it’s a lot of… It’s hard to explain. You develop a sense of actually- what’s the word I’m looking for, appreciation, I guess over the years, you appreciate it in the long run, now looking back… Now I see how much I appreciate the game itself and actually being able to go out and play, but I also appreciate kind of the whole hockey experience.
When you’re a mite or a squirt at 8 or 9 years old, it’s kind of the day-to-day that you worry about, not the big picture, so I think at 8 or 9 you don’t appreciate what you’re doing as much.
Your parents see it, your parents understand this is something real here. This is it, and all the while you’re just looking to go steal the puck from little Bobby over in the corner. It’s really a bigger picture that develops over the years.
Again, it’s very different. At first, you don’t really realize the fact that while playing in youth hockey, you’re playing with kids that are maybe a year older or a year younger than you or the same age. As for playing high school hockey, you’ve got kids that are four years older than you.
These are kids that you’re afraid of in the hallway, walking through middle school you try to avoid because they’re older than me. They’re big kids, or whatever. Playing high school hockey it’s the same thing. It’s like, “Man, this big-ass kid is going to come over and check me. What am I going to do?” You have to learn quickly, or else you’re not going to succeed as a high school hockey player.
Did you always play D?
I play D… Well, the sport’s kind of switched up. As a kid, you get to play both, so you’re you’re not really defining what position you’re going to play. The alternate goalies, you know, I would play goalie for one weekend and let in 14 goals in one game, and you know, you just move on.
You were a sieve?
I think so. I definitely was one when I played, I think, 2 games. My dad actually coached me when I was … up through peewee, he coached me, so in doing that, he was a very fair giving ice time giver and also a very fair with goal-tending, and for me, I think I didn’t get my fair share.
He saw the position wasn’t for me, although everybody else played 4 games of goalie, I got two games of goalie and then that was it.
Dad pulled you as goalie?
[Laughter] You know, I want to say that second game, my second year of squirts, I want to say the whole third period, we pulled the goalie because we were down like 14-2 and we’d rather have the sixth guy on the ice.
NEXT: “Growing up Hockey”
If you’d like to get in touch with Zach, drop us a line and we’ll forward it, otherwise, feel free to comment.