I just started learning how to actually play hockey in the Madison Gay Hockey Association. I’ll chronicle my journey in my Gay Hockey Diary, a semi-regular feature here. See Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3.
I’ve always enjoyed winter. While my mother threatened a move to Florida at least twice a week from November through April, I just wanted it to snow more.
Yet, growing up in the mountains in Pennsylvania, there weren’t many ponds or lakes that would freeze. Sure, the river would occasionally freeze over, but never enough to skate on it. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I never picked up hockey until this year.
So, now that I can actually call myself a hockey player in a town with tons of lakes and ponds, I found myself looking forward to the cold weather even more than usual. Lucky for me, the ponds froze earlier than usual this year.
I could sense a little buzz among the members of the Madison Gay Hockey Association as the temperatures sank below the almighty 32 degree threshold. Once we got word that Tenney Park—a pond on the northeastern edge of the isthmus in Madison—was open for business, I finally got my first taste of real, Wisconsin pick-up pond hockey.
A few members from the MGHA set up a time to meet. I texted a few of my straight friends who also love hockey, and—after putting on a few extra layers to brace the Wisconsin cold—we headed toward the pond.
Tenney Park is a magical place, really. It’s a huge, U-shaped pond that’s probably big enough for nine or 10 NHL-sized rinks. They plow the snow and clean the ice every day. Don’t ask me how they do it (I prefer to believe they have a magical Zamboni), but there’s always a decently fresh sheet of ice in the morning. They even put a handful of nets on the ice, so you can play a full game if you find a goalie or two.
There’s a warming shelter where you can rent skates. And it’s usually full of a wide range of people—parents helping their children put on tiny skates, couples getting ready for a romantic skate and of course, hockey players tightening up their laces.
Once we got on the ice, we warmed up a bit shooting into one of the nets. Then, a friend just went over to another group that was doing the same thing on a different net and asked if they wanted to start a game using both nets. Since we didn’t have any goalies, we flipped the nets over so that we were shooting into a much smaller area. Then, we threw our sticks in the middle of the ice.
After my friend blindly divvied up the sticks, we took our sides and started playing.
If this were a movie, this would be the part where a lighthearted song played in the background as a montage appeared on the screen featuring guys and girls smiling, smacking the puck, attempting to stickhandle around each other, scoring into empty nets and even falling down, laughing.
That’s really what it feels like—a movie montage, or a CBC intro to an outdoor NHL game.
And much like our league, the people on the ice may have wildly varying skill levels, but they try their best to make sure teams are even. When my friend Ben—who has been playing most of his life and can stickhandle quite well—wound up on a team with a high school player with similar abilities, they both agreed that one should switch to the other team.
And if there’s a player who is just learning the game, the experienced ones will do their best to pass them the puck on offense or give them a little space on defense.
Basically, pick-up pond hockey is very much like the MGHA. Nobody cares about where you came from, what you look like or your sexuality, we are all just there to play the game. Of course, most of the people on the ice are straight, but I’ve yet to encounter a problem. Maybe it’s just because I live in a very liberal city.
In fact, on New Year’s Day, my gay friend and I were playing on a team with two alpha-male type college guys, who play on their college’s club team. A very attractive family skated by, and both the mom and the dad could be considered a MILF and a DILF, respectively.
The two straight guys looked at each other and said, “That mom is hot!” My friend and I looked at each other and said, “That dad is hot!”
The guys looked at us for a quick second, laughed and then passed me the puck to start the breakout.
That’s what pond hockey is all about. It’s about playing the game you love with friends and strangers who also love the game. It’s about getting a nice workout in the open, chilly air. It’s about calling your own infractions and helping your opponents up if they fall.
And it’s about bringing people together who probably would not otherwise have a reason to talk to each other.
So if you have a chance to go play a game of pick-up hockey, go do it this winter.
That said, it’s way too cold for pond hockey this week.
If you have any questions about the MGHA or life in general, feel free to email me.