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The puck drops at Church and Carlton

Gay teams take to the ice at former Maple Leaf Gardens

Toronto Gay Hockey Association co-founder Robert Thompson is thrilled gay hockey teams are now playing in the Village. Credit: Daniela Costa

Gay hockey has made a new home in the Village.

On Sept 16, the Toronto Gay Hockey Association (TGHA) began its new season at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly Maple Leaf Gardens.

“It’s completely amazing to be downtown,” says Robert Thompson, commissioner and co-founder of the TGHA. “It’s always where I wanted to bring the league.”

Thompson has been with the TGHA since it was founded 20 years ago. This is his final year running the league.

“The community benefits by having hockey here,” says Thompson, who thinks bringing the league downtown is his last great accomplishment with the TGHA.

As soon as he heard Ryerson University had landed the rights to Maple Leaf Gardens, he contacted the school about getting the TGHA ice time.

Playing downtown makes commuting via public transit easier for many members. It also allows for games to be played closer to sponsors located in the Village.

This season, 10 teams of 14 players are vying to make it to the finals on April 28, 2013.

The TGHA acquired four hours of ice time for Sunday afternoons. Due to scheduling issues with Ryerson’s varsity teams and the TGHA’s decision to add a 10th team, the league has picked up extra ice time over a few Saturdays.

“Ryerson has been fantastic to work with,” Thompson says. “They really want to be part of the community.”

TGHA members held a vote about moving downtown. A majority voted in favour of the move, but the decision caused the league to lose approximately 15 members. It added 30 new members, however, and has a waiting list to boot.

TGHA is made up of 140 playing and five non-playing members. It hosts at least one social event each month, which serves as a space for non-playing members.

“If they can’t commit to playing, they can commit to being socially active,” Thompson says.

The TGHA is fundamentally a men’s league, but Thompson says women, despite their small numbers, are welcome. “In our constitution, we cannot discriminate against having anyone play.

“We lost a few of the straights when we moved,” he says. “Now our gay numbers are up.”

This is hardly surprising. Playing in a gay league and, what’s more, playing in the Village, has members feeling like they belong.

“It’s just such a positive environment,” says Dave Beda, who has been in the league for about 18 years.

“This is a whole new chapter for the TGHA,” he says.

Playing in the old Maple Leaf Gardens has special meaning for Beda. As a child, he attended many games there.

“It was always amazing,” he says. “I think it was where I really got my love of the game.”

When the Gardens closed, he was crushed. “It was tough to see everything I knew as a child be taken away.”

That was erased the moment Beda stepped into the revived arena as a player. “It was just surreal to know I’m walking into the building and participating in some of the history it had.”

For more information on the TGHA, check out their website: gayhockey.com.