Under the blinking fluorescent lights, at an ice rink in the heart of the sprawling Carleton University Ccmpus, a crew of jocks lace up for a friendly game of hockey. It’s a weekly Sunday-night outing for the Ottawa-Gatineau Gay Hockey Association.
Stéphane Bélair is a regular.
“It’s a good group of guys,” says Bélair. “It’s a fun group. It can be competitive, but not too competitive.
Organizer Stephen Roe agrees.
“It’s just a group of guys with the same interest playing hockey,” says Roe.
Bélair and his squad will soon be playing host to several dozen of their hockey-loving brethren. Teams from the northeastern part of the continent will descend on Ottawa this month for the National Capital Region Face Off — the first time that the city has hosted a gay hockey tournament in eight years.
Roe says that interest in gay hockey in Ottawa has been cyclical during his 10 years with the team. At the moment, they don’t have enough players suiting up for two full teams. With informal pick-up rules, they divide the squad in two at the weekly games for a few friendly periods of play. There are even a few straight people filling out the ranks.
Still, it’s a vibrant club. The boys regularly head out of town to play in gay hockey tournaments. And it was at one of these out-of-town tournaments that the idea was planted for an Ottawa event.
“People were asking us, ‘When is Ottawa-Gatineau going to have another tournament?'” says Roe.
After some friendly prodding, Roe booked the rink last winter — ice time is at a premium space must be booked a year in advance — and began preparations.
Eight gay hockey teams will test their stick handling Feb 20-22. Players are coming from New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal.
Anyone interested in playing with the league can sign up this summer for the 2009-2010 season. Meanwhile, spectators are welcome at both the tournament and at their regular games at Carleton on Sundays. Prospective puck bunnies can also check out the tournament’s bar night at the Lookout Feb 19.
INFOXBOX: National Capital Region Face-Off.
Hosted by the Ottawa-Gatineau Gay Hockey Association.
Carleton University Ice House.