This summer, I finally made the leap and started playing hockey. I’ve loved this sport for so long, but growing up in the middle of the woods, I had little opportunity to learn how to play. Then, after moving to Madison and coming out of the closet, I discovered the Madison Gay Hockey Association.
We played some scrimmages over the summer, which was a good way for me to get my feet wet and start learning. But now, the season is underway. The MGHA is firmly cemented as the largest gay hockey league in the country. This year, we have 120 players and eight teams.
Whenever I tell someone that I play in the gay hockey league, the reaction usually starts out with laughter at the fact that such a thing exists. I don’t really know if I should find that offensive or not, but when they realize that I’m serious, people usually think it’s a great idea for a hockey league.
Last time, I wrote about how accepting and encouraging the MGHA is toward new players. Many of the first-year players have never even skated before—and some of the new players still can’t really skate. But that doesn’t stop everyone from encouraging new players, even when they perform as simple of a task as getting back onsides.
That concept can be baffling at first, and one of the new players on my team said it’s a little jarring to hear someone tell him he’s doing a great job after he falls down and forces the play offside. “The hardest thing about this league is learning how to take a compliment,” he said. I think that says a lot about the MGHA.
Over the next few months, I’ll chronicle my experiences throughout my first season in the MGHA.
The Green Gay Puckers
In September, we held a few clinics for new players to get used to skating and help us learn the basics of hockey. But the real fun began at the end of September with our player evaluation scrimmages.
One of the biggest goals for the MGHA is parity in team selection. You don’t sign up for the league with a particular team, and team captains can’t just pick their friends or the best players. Each team is divided up based on skill level. So, in order to determine what skill level each player is, the MGHA brings in actual scouts to watch scrimmages.
I wanted to work as hard as I could during the scrimmage, but I didn’t want to get too lucky and give them an overrepresentation of my mediocrity. But I feel like my scrimmage depicted my skills well—I can skate reasonably well and get into good position, but once the pass comes to me, my inferior puck-handling skills become wildly apparent.
After the scrimmages, all of the captains met to divvy up the teams. Each team is then assigned a color, and I soon learned that I would be playing on the green team with Johannes— our team captain and one of the league’s better defensemen. He’s also a fascinating person. He’s a jazz musician and professor, and he used to play in the NYC Gay Hockey Association.
The first task for each team is to come up with a team name. And when you put a bunch of LGBT people together and ask them to name something, you’re going to get puns. The teal team is Boo-teal-licious. Orange is Puck a l’Orange. But my team’s name is by far the best: The Green Gay Puckers.
The thing that impressed me most before the season started was just how well the MGHA fosters an inclusive environment. Before our first practice, we went around the locker room and introduced ourselves. The introductions included the standards—our names and how long we’ve been playing. But then, Johannes asked everyone to state their preferred gender pronouns. I thought it was a great way to make sure everyone felt accepted.
The Games Begin
The MGHA has five hours of ice time at a local rink every Sunday night, which means all eight teams play every week. During Week 1, the first game of the season pitted the Green Gay Puckers against Puck a l’Orange.
We threw some lines together the week prior at our second of two team practices, and we decided that we would keep those lines together for at least the first few games to see how they mesh. I was placed on right wing with Kevin, one of the league’s best centers, and Ben, a fast skater with good puck-handling skills. This became our team’s top line, so we headed toward center ice after a loud team chant of “Mother Puckers!”
Here I was, playing in my first-ever organized hockey game, starting on the top line. I still don’t know how that happened.
The puck dropped and Kevin won the faceoff. After some initial struggles with the Orange team’s defense, he worked the puck over to Ben on the left wing and we got a little space. Before the game started, Kevin looked at me and said, “Go to the net.” So I did just that.
I skated hard toward the net. Nobody covered me as I headed straight toward the crease. Kevin had the puck in the left corner and fed a perfect pass toward me in the slot. Ryan, Puck a l’Orange’s goalie, lunged toward me and left the entire upper part of the net exposed.
When the puck arrived, I took a swing and heard a loud “ooooh” from the benches and the stands—I completely missed.
The puck skittered to the right corner and their defense cleared the zone. I didn’t score—hell, I didn’t even get a shot on goal—but I had a taste of what a good offensive chance felt like, and I wanted more.
Unfortunately for the Green Gay Puckers, Ryan is a great goalie. My line had chance after chance like the play I described above, and even when I did get the shot off from a great pass, Ryan robbed me at least four times. Puck a l’Orange went on to win 4-0, but the Green Gay Puckers started to form their identity as a team with good forechecking and offensive zone-possession.
Week 2: My first “goal”
The second week of games featured the league’s two best puns going head to head. As we squared off against Boo-teal-licious. The Teal team features some great talent at forward and defense, as well as a solid goaltender.
Once again, my line started the game, and we set the tone well for the Green Gay Puckers. We had some great chances in the first period, as we are quickly perfecting a play that the Penguins’ top line—Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis—often employs. Kevin and Ben carry the puck into the zone and work toward the left side of the ice. I’m usually a little bit slower across the blue line, so the defenders are drawn toward the left side. I just skate hard to the net and arrive at the same time the puck does.
Boo-teal-licious’ defense quickly caught on, though, and finally started to cover me. We still got some great, scrambling chances in the crease. But it wasn’t until the second period when we finally scored our first goal of the season.
Our line had a typical play, and I found my way into the crease. This time, however, there were a lot of teal jerseys in front, so my stick got lifted and the puck bounced around a bit. It took a stab at the puck when I finally found it, and it bounced off the goalies’ pads to the left side of the crease. Kevin came in and took a whack at it, which was also blocked. This went on for some time, with all of us stabbing at the puck until it finally found the back of the net.
I really have no idea what happened, and I honestly thought Kevin put it in. But the ref skated over to the scorer’s box and said No. 6 scored the goal. Then, I heard a wonderful mispronunciation of my name as they announced my goal. I don’t know how it happened, but I guess I’ll take it.
Later in the period, we scored again, and this time it made more sense. I was in the defensive zone when the puck found its way to my stick. I smacked it toward the side boards, hoping to just clear the zone. However, Kevin found my “pass” and went on a breakaway. He beat the goalie, top-shelf, and gave the Green Gay Puckers a 3-0 lead.
In the third period, we tried to play conservatively to hold the lead. However, we don’t really know how to do that, and the score quickly became 3-2, with 2:30 left on the clock. Johannes told us all to play nothing but defense for the rest of the game. It didn’t quite play out that way.
My line took the ice with defense on our minds, but once we got the puck, defense quickly gave way to an attack. And Kevin swooped around the left side and buried another goal to give us a safe lead.
We were really lucky that I got credit for the first goal, because in the MGHA, the top-tier players are only allowed to score two goals per game. If they score a third, it doesn’t count. That’s just another way the MGHA tries to encourage new players. But, unless it’s a tight game in the third period, the advanced-level players typically just try to feed the puck to the newbies anyway.
We wound up scoring a few more times to put the game away, and the Green Gay Puckers defeated Boo-teal-licious 6-2.
After two weeks of games, I feel like I’m finally finding a groove and I’m realizing that hockey is even more fun than I ever imagined it would be. It’s even better now that I’m in a little better shape than when I started last summer—I’m no longer dying after each shift.
When I went to the stands to meet my friends, the first thing they told me—after congratulating me on my “goal” of course—was that I have the biggest smile, from ear-to-ear, when I’m out on the ice.
Sounds about right.
If you have any questions about MGHA or life in general, feel free to email me.