Canada's latest hockey sex scandal unfolded in an Ontario courtroom in the fall of 2008. Dave Frost faced 12 charges of sexual exploitation related to his time as coach of the Quinte Hawks junior hockey team in the small town of Deseronto. It was alleged that he orchestrated sex parties in an apartment he shared with his teenaged players, some of whom went on to become stars in the National Hockey League.
The girls at the centre of the scandal claimed that Frost watched them have sex with multiple players in a group, sometimes giving them instructions and participating himself. The judge dismissed the witness testimony as "not believable" and "tainted by collusion" and Frost was found not guilty. But during the trial an unnamed NHL player testified that he regularly participated in group sex with one female and up to five or six males, and that this was a common "bonding experience" among young hockey players. How delicious.
While the public reaction focused on Frost, I am more intrigued by the notion that group sex is so common among junior hockey teams in towns across the country, or more accurately that group sex in hockey is such a sensitive topic in the mainstream.
Naturally young men play with their cocks. What do you expect? But hockey is a bastion of homophobia. How do a bunch of supposedly heterosexual hockey players convince themselves that watching each other having sex — taking turns — is not at least a little bit gay? Is this a display of heterosexual prowess, an initiation rite or just a bunch of horny teenagers? And what is it about this story that gives me such a boner?
One freezing Saturday in December I head to De LaSalle Arena in Toronto to watch my buddy Mike Takacs play a pickup game. Takacs is a real man's man. He looks like Central Casting's idea of a hockey player with broad shoulders, strong brow and square jaw. Even though he's got a growing family, a rewarding job as a teacher and a burgeoning standup comedy career Takacs still makes time to play hockey on Saturday afternoons.
"It's almost like meditation for me," he says. "If I need to work anything out, I just get on the ice. Luckily my wife lets me go out and play. It has caused some arguments, but few and far between. If you're a Canadian citizen, especially where I grew up in Thunder Bay, it's just a way of life."
Another reason Takacs likes hockey is for the camaraderie, because as a member of a hockey team he is one of a band of brothers.
"It's the only part of my life where I'm with guys on a regular basis," he says. "I think it helps because guys have trouble communicating. Being on a team is a way to be there for a person without expressing any feelings or emotions. This team I'm playing with right now is very macho. We have an unspoken bond. It's probably a lot like female bonding only with less dialogue."
Takacs played Junior B hockey in high school and some of the guys he played with went on to play in the Ontario Hockey League and the National Hockey League.
"Unfortunately I think the higher level you go in the hockey world the more negative shit you see," he says. "It's a very excessive lifestyle. I think that's true of any sport, not just hockey. The hazing, the sex and the girls that go along with it, the players have carte blanche to get away with whatever they want."
Another hockey friend of mine, Mark Hickox, tells a story about a house party he attended while in high school.
"There was a lineup outside one of the bedrooms," he says. "I asked my buddy, 'What's going on?' and he said, 'There's a girl in there fucking everybody on the hockey team.'"
Hickox says he didn't line up to find out if it was true.
Another friend tells me about a game called The Magic Fountain.
"That's when one guy lies on the floor with his mouth open," he says. "Another player stands over his face, naked and bends over. Then the ringleader pours beer down the standing player's butt so it runs down his crack and into the other player's mouth. That's what they call The Magic Fountain."
"Wow," I say. "That's pretty raw."
"Well, they shower first."
Rob Ferris, a gay man who has played hockey since he was a little kid, offers up my favourite initiation rite.
"Marshmallows are lined up on the dressing-room floor," he says. "The players squat down and pick them up with their asses. Then they back up and carry them over to a lineup of rookies. The rookies have to use their mouths to get the marshmallow out of the players' buttcracks."
That all sounds like good, old-fashioned sex play.
"I think it's totally a sexual thing," says Takacs. "One hundred percent, no ifs, ands or buts."
Did Takacs ever have group sex with his teammates or take part in sexually charged initiation rites during his time in Junior B?
"I was lucky enough not to be that good a player, in some regards, because I never had those initiations but they do happen," he laughs. "I know a Junior A team that had to masturbate over a cookie and the last person to finish had to eat it. And of course there's The Elephant Walk and all that."
"Of course, The Elephant Walk," I say. "What's The Elephant Walk?"
"You know, holding onto each other's genitals one after another in a big chain," he says. "It has nothing to do with hockey but it happens."
"When you have 15 to 20 17-year-old boys in a hotel room or on a bus the cocks are coming out, like, all the time and there's going to be crazy shit that happens," says Ferris. "Not so much guy-on-guy but a lot of guys on one girl."
Why do men ritualize these interactions?
"I don't know, man," says Takacs. "Why do middle-aged guys buy sports cars? It's an expression of their manhood, trying to be the cock of the walk, the big rooster. It's about trying to prove yourself and it's just ridiculous. If you play well on the ice then the other stuff shouldn't come into play."
It all seems more than a little bit gay but Ferris says the sex play is juvenile rather than homoerotic.
"Guys are like little monkeys," he says. "They get naked together and they don't know what else to do. They just jump around and giggle and grab at each other. When you're a kid, 12 or 13 years old, and you're all naked in the locker room, you're going to make jokes and laugh, and that's what guys do.
"These guys are in their mid-30s but they've been on competitive hockey teams and that's all they've done their whole lives. They're still adolescents. So they never grow up, never mature and become adult men. It's weird."
In other words in the minds of these manly men it's all not so much sexual as presexual. These athletes are presented as paragons of manhood, of heterosexual masculinity, but they're really just a bunch of little boys having fun playing with their dicks.
"Besides," says Hickox, "You couldn't possibly be gay and play hockey. That's why it's ironic when Dave Frost and Graham James and other sexually ambiguous scandals come to light. Is he molesting his players? Is he orchestrating orgies? Why is Sean Avery so concerned with who's doing his sloppy seconds? Are the players getting it on with each other?
"Within the hockey culture, that's not an option. Yet the whole thing is pretty gay. There's no other place as a straight guy where I hang around naked with other dudes drinking beer. It's like a Turkish bath after a hockey game. But it's all cool, man, 'cause it's hockey, dude."
It's clear that sex play is part of hockey and that it is rationalized somehow to avoid all things gay. You might have noticed also that the straight guys who spoke to me for this story conspicuously all knew stories about sex play in hockey, acknowledged that it happens, but wouldn't own up to ever taking part personally.
There must be a code of silence among the boys on The Elephant Walk.
On a wet Sunday in December I drive up to York University to watch Toronto Gay Hockey Association (TGHA) teams in action. As I walk into the arena, Axel Rose is screaming "Welcome to the Jungle" over loudspeakers as moms, children, surly teenagers and middle-aged men mill about. This is the real, straight, suburban world. And there, right in the middle of it all, is a sign: "Rink A: 3pm - Children's X-Mas Party; 4pm - Steamworks vs Woody's."
I can't help but laugh out loud.
Stephen Reid has been playing with the TGHA for 10 years.
"We're the largest gay hockey league in the world," he says. "It was started in the early '90s by a couple of guys who wanted to play with other gay guys. Now there are nine teams and over 100 players. The difference between this league and other leagues is that there are no homophobic comments in the locker room. We can talk about Madonna and The Golden Girls then play tough like Tie Domi on the ice."
When I ask the players in the TGHA if there's sex in the locker room some of them take offence. These guys take their sport very seriously and it shows. Watching them on the ice I'm astonished. The skill level on display is very high. Gay hockey is big these days, from Montreal to Colorado. Gay teams are regularly going up against straight teams and winning.
What I find in TGHA is a group of men searching for brothers. It's important for gay men to find ways of being together that don't just prize youth, beauty or the latest trends. Yes, there are plenty of hot guys here. You might even find a date but that's not necessarily the point. The values on display in Rink A on any given Sunday are the classic masculine ideals of honour, loyalty, leadership, camaraderie and fairness.
Many competitive Junior teams could learn something from the men of TGHA. They might learn a thing or two about what it takes to be a man.