By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
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By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
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Another gay hockey organization, the D.C. Nationals, doesn't "advertise that we're gay," according to Jim O'Donnell, an aerospace engineer who organized the First Wives International Hockey Tournament, in which a NYCGHA team played last weekend. The coed team, which has a number of straight players, competes in a straight rec league in Virginia. O'Donnell says the greatest challenge to playing hockey in Washington, D.C., is finding enough players. Tom Lovenjak, the International Gay and Lesbian Ice Hockey Association commissioner who also plays in the TGHA, notes that it is the threat of being outed, not physically injured, that keeps many gay hockey players from joining gay teams.
The Montreal Dragons are an inclusive bunch; they not only welcome straight players and women in their program, but their Web site is in French and English, as well. (Note to Francophones: French is the language of choice sur la glace.) The gay Montreal league, with four teams and 44 players, has sent a contingent to the last three Gay Games. Sylvain Pigeon, who is organizing the Dragons' annual hockey tournament, Defi International/Montreal 2000, which will take place in mid May, says that the league could probably have more teams, but they don't have enough ice (a common complaint for all hockey teams). Pigeon, who grew up in a tiny town of 1000 people eight hours north of Montreal, where "hockey is a religion," says about playing on a gay hockey team, "It's fun to play and not have to pretend who you are."
The Women's Hockey Club of Toronto (WHCT) has 12 teams and 180 players, making it one of the largest lesbian and lesbian-friendly leagues in North America. Started seven years ago, the WHCT (which is about 95 percent lesbian) encourages women who have never played hockey to participate, and creates new rosters each season so that one team doesn't dominate from year to year. Karen Decker, who is on the club's organizing committee, notes that there are other gay women's teams in the area that play in straight leagues.
Skill levels in the various gay hockey clubs varies widely. Indeed, the NYCGHA sees an assortment of abilities at its practices, from novice puck heads to ex-college players like Cronin. The disparity in on-ice talent is a common denominator among many of the teams, especially in newer programs like New York's. The Boston Pride was able to add a second team for beginning skaters, the Lazers, when membership grew too big for the Lobsters' roster. The Lobsters are now the program's elite team and play in a more competitive division. On the other hand, in Toronto, a hockey hotbed, "Eighty percent of the players [in the TGHA] have played hockey before and we have very few beginners," says Tom Lovenjak. "Although we do put on clinics."
Of course, it isn't just the gamelearning the basics for novices and sharpening skills for veteransthat attracts gay players to gay hockey teams. As the Boston Pride's Mark Murphy notes, "It's the atmosphere of mutual respect and support along with the social element which is very important to people." (These are also the factors that appeal to straight players.)
Bobby Cronin describes his experience being gay and playing with the NYCGHA this way: "Suddenly I went back to being 18 again and if you put on hockey equipment you were supposed to be straight. It was overwhelming to be on the ice with 30 other gay people. There was so much pressure to be mean and masculine and nasty when I was growing up. I still apologize when I hit someone, but now I'm not the only one saying it."