I've read a good share of other Ducks writers since I started writing. When I can't poach talent (cough SK and Chris cough), I like to borrow it for my own benefit. Join me in welcoming to the Anaheim Calling family, our new monthly columnist - Ryan!
Hi, everyone! I want to tell you a bit about myself and how I came to fall in love with the Ducks.
Like many others, I too was not very familiar with hockey when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim played their first game in October 1993. I had just turned 13, and recently began playing roller hockey in the streets outside my parents suburban Orange County house over the past couple years. A new friend in the neighborhood championed a group of us to start playing, and the afternoon street game developed. I've always been an athlete. I played baseball year round at a relatively competitive level. I was on traveling teams, went to baseball camps, all that sorta stuff. Hockey was so different though, it was constant action. In contrast to baseball, hockey was a welcome recreational change suited for my overtly competitive ways.
SI had watched a few Kings games, including the Stanley Cup Finals, but I didn't actually become a true fan until that team in eggplant and teal started playing. It started casually at first - just watching an odd game on TV here and there. Mostly I wanted to learn about the new game I started playing. I am forever molded by Ron Wilson and his dump and chase system. Terry Yake, Bob Corkum, Randy Ladoucer, and of course, Guy Hebert became names I began to know. I did not realize at the time that we had a journeymans team thrown together from the rest of the NHL's castaways. Nonetheless, I endured myself to them - they were MY team.
As I watched more hockey, I started to play more hockey. The casual street hockey game evolved into something bigger. We played kids in other neighborhoods, and later my friends and I joined a league with border patrol. I would finish my high school baseball practice and head straight to a roller hockey game. Outside of our league we took over basketball courts - we didn't even use [goaltending] nets. My wrist shot back then was so accurate that I could hit the middle of the basketball post from half court. We played 2 on 2. Checking was only allowed when the puck went into the grass.
The Ducks second season my family got a mini-plan. I went to 15 games with my Dad and my older cousin. I was hooked. Our family became hooked. After years going to Angel games - this fast, hard hitting game drew in everyone. My mom and I probably became the biggest fans. She and I would watch together or even in separate rooms and yell at the TV for the various non-calls or missed chances. As time wore on, our tickets evolved from mini-plan to season tickets. We would all go to different games throughout the course of the season. (Sadly before last season my family gave them up because I now live/work in LA and my sister has a son.)
It was so cool to be part of so many firsts in a franchise. Going to the playoff games versus the Coyotes in '97. Being there for a game 7- all those emotions and butterflies for your team. I remember sitting in the stands in Round 2 for Game 4 vs the Red Wings. I had an AP test the next morning, but Mikhail Shtalenkov played amazing with 70 saves. The Ducks hung in, but ended up losing 3-2 in double OT. That was when I learned and felt what the pain of your team losing a series in the playoffs and ending their season meant. Since then I have been at almost every critical moment in the franchise. How many Habs fan can say that?
I forgot to mention one big thing in the this timeline - Paul Kariya. His smooth skating, his determination, his monster shot, his vision. He was so impressive. I felt bad for him playing alone on the Ducks without someone along side of him. Looking back now I had a huge crush on him. Oh... I forgot to mention. I'm gay. So as my love for the Ducks grew- and my hockey playing intensified- I struggled with sorting through my internal struggles with my sexuality. What I thought of as gay was only stereotypes I had heard or seen. I didn't have any gay athlete role models in any professional sport to look to and I remained closeted.
My sophomore year in college my school had a club ice hockey team. They guys on the team knew I had played a lot of roller hockey and invited me to come out to a skate. Needless to say it did not take very long before I was told I had to join the team full time. I was a fast skater- even if it was horribly ugly in my form. The three months leading up to the season I made every practice, skating circles, suicides, and learning to check and going through the gauntlet. I played endless amounts of pick-up games and went to all the open skates I could. It was not that difficult a transition for me...other then then learning to stop. I already played roller hockey like an ice player because of all the hockey I watched. I was a grinder and still am.
My first ice hockey season began, and due to injuries to our team by the 5th game, I was skating on the top line. In that game, I set up a goal as I dug a puck out of the corner and fed my teammate in the slot for a nice one-timer goal. However, I took a big hit by a defensemen to make the pass. I was not used to having to keep my head up as much since checking is not allowed in roller hockey. Sadly, the following week the head aches and pain in my neck ensued. I eventually went to a doctor and my season was cut short due to the injury. During that time I started dating someone for the first time. You do not know how tough it was not telling my teammates. For those of you who have not been on a hockey team (or any competitive team), you spend so much time together that they are like your extended family. I had an internal dilema that I was not sure how to deal with. After that year, I changed schools. It took a little time but I got back on the ice and have been ever since.
As time went on I had come out to friends and family including my friends that I now played hockey with. I remember one of my friends telling me later that at first he thought things might change. He worried the first time he undressed in the locker room, but then he said, "No that's Ryan" and it was no big deal. Another teammate said this changes everything. I was worried. Yet, he continued that now if he heard someone making fun of a gay person he would be upset because they would be making fun of me. Some people have the idea that being in a locker room with a gay person would cause uncomfortable situations for a straight teammate. I assure you that if anyone felt uncomfortable it was me. First off, there is nothing sexy about anything after a hockey game. Do you know how much your gear smells? Just saying. Secondly, you respect your teammates and your team is like a family. As an adult my experiences being out have mostly been positive. I am pretty open, and honestly, I know sports and play them as well as any heterosexual male.
A few years ago I heard about a gay hockey team in LA. I was surprised that I, the overtly competitive hockey player/fan, had never heard about it before. So after a little investigation I began to play for the LA Blades. The Blades are an organization that formed in the mid 80s as a team that is gay friendly, and plays in regular recreational leagues across Southern California. Not all the people playing on the team are gay. There are many friends of players, or people that originally started playing with the team because the league assigned them to our team, or people that just didn't have a team of their own. The Blades started due to the need for safe haven for players to feel they had a team they can play with. I cannot imagine what it was like in the 80s. It is important to create the visibility of that gay hockey players even exist and foster and openess to those that are different to yourself. We work with the leagues we play in to help them crack down on it, and to create a positive environment.
For me it was a huge step. I really did not have any gay friends when I joined. I met other like-minded people who were passionate about hockey. I also happened to meet my boyfriend, Peter. The irony is that when he started playing with the team, I thought he was straight. I was courteous, but according to him I didn't give him the time of day. I was just trying to not make him feel uncomfortable playing with the gay hockey team. After we sorted all that out, 6 months later we started dating and have been together over 4 ½ years now. I get to skate on a line with him most the time now.
The year we started dating was 2007. The night the Ducks won the Cup I was at the game with my sister. I am probably one of the few people who have ever been present the night the cup was won and then gone and played in my own hockey game. Peter and I had champagne when we got home to celebrate. He's a Bruins fan so I got to return the favor and get the champagne for him this summer....
After the Wayne Simmonds calling Sean Avery a fag incident, my partner was tweeting about what allowing the language does - it's not good for anyone. He was reached out to by a site called Puckbuddys. The site started last season originally as a hockey blog for the Capitals written by a gay couple. They were looking to branch out and provide coverage for other teams by their gay fans. The invitation to write about the Bruins was offered to Peter. He milled it over and decided to join. He asked if I was interested in covering the Ducks. We watch SO much hockey in our house. On nights the Ducks and Bruins both play, we DVR both games. If the Bruins start at 4 and the Ducks at 430, we watch the DVR'd Bruins 1st period followed by the Ducks 1st period, then it's back to the Bruins 2nd period...you get the point. I hate seeing what the score is on the bottom line. I love the drama that unfolds without knowing what the ending is.
Needless to say, I decided to write about the Ducks. Not just because they asked me to, but for a few other reasons as well. Being Ducks fans, we know how little attention our team gets. That Eastern Media focus is so clear - especially in hockey - that I wanted to get other people to know how amazing MVPerry is. That Cam Fowler is going to be a stud on the blue line for a long time to come. That Teemu Selanne is an ageless wonder. And so much more! I also saw it as a way for me to help show that there really are gay hockey fans (and players). That despite any differences we may have, we both yell and scream and throw things at the TV during Ducks games just the same. And hopefully some day it will help create the right environment for one brave player to come out while still a professional. I hope you follow suit. and we can create a hockey dialogue together.
Let's Go Ducks!