There are two teams, two leaguesand a recent second-place showing.
Welcome to the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA), which has dropped its longtime nickname (Black Wolves) and is now operating as the CGHA Red Linerswith a roster of more than 50 skaters, the most in team history. Team members range in age from 22 to 49, with some who identify as straight, gay, transgender "and everything in between," said team president Andrew Sobotka.
"We have doctors, lawyers, military folk and a whole host of people from various walks of life," he added. "I would say we are a very diverse organization.
"We needed to expand into two teams because we were overflowing. At each game we had to turn people away from playing, so it was essential to make another team to help accommodate more players who want to play in an all-inclusive environment."
Both teams play as the CGHA Red Liners and will wear the same jerseys. "We thought about naming the second team something else, but it felt right to keep the names the same. It helps to promote camaraderie between the teams," Sobotka said.
The top-level team plays at Johnny's Ice House in Chicago; its 21-game season runs through April. The CGHA also fields a team in the adult league that plays at the North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook, with its 23-game season running through the end of May.
"The goal for each team is to help all players grow as individuals and as hockey players," Sobotka said. "We love to go out there, have fun and change people's attitudes about gays who play sports. We like to win, too."
Sobotka, 27, who lives in Wrigleyville and plays defense, said the CGHA's goal is the continue expanding. "The more players we have, the easier it is for us to make ourselves known, to make new allies and to have fun," he said. "With more growth, we can accommodate more players and have more bodies for our charitable endeavors."
Sobotka is among a core of seven skaters who play for both CGHA teams. "By having the same leadership on each team, we bring a sense of continuity to both teams," he said. "We also have a really big group of longtime CGHA players heading up our team at North Shore, which should help to foster a sense of community."
The CGHA finished second in an annual early-October gay hockey tournament held in Toronto, ultimately losing to a team from Ottawa.
"Several players had great games [in Toronto,] including Brian Hull on offense and David Stefanski on defense," Sobotka said. "It was a tough [championship] game to lose [because] we had so much momentum going into it, [but] Ottawa really showed us that we needed to take a step back and examine how we pace ourselves during tournaments. Overall I think we learned to save some energy for the end.
"I think, as far as game play goes, [the CGHA] can compete with any [gay hockey] team. If we bring our best players, I know we could give any other gay team a run for their money. In terms of how energized our members are, we blow the other teams out of the water. We do things as an organization that I know other teams wish they could do. We send a team to every tournament; we do volunteer work and fundraise like crazy, and it's all because our members are willing to put so much energy into the CGHA."
Members of the CGHA will be competing in the Sin City Shootout in Las Vegas in January; however, entire teams are not allowed to play together, so Red Liners will be playing as individuals, on different teams. "It will be fun to meet new players and play with different people from across the U.S.," Sobotka said.
Sobotka confirmed that the CGHA will host the second-ever Market Days Classic tournament in Chicago again in 2014. The inaugural tournament was held in 2011.