The New York City Gay Hockey Association won’t be playing games or marching in a Pride Month parade for the second consecutive June due to concerns and cancellations related to the coronavirus.
Instead, members of the 22-year-old association are celebrating the month by showing their love for hockey by helping teammates who have been financially impacted by the pandemic and may not be able to afford to play whenever games resume.
The NYCGHA launched an online fundraiser that will run through June 27 to establish a scholarship fund for players in need to help cover the $1,300 in ice time and league fees charged for a year of hockey.
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“For many of us, hockey is our stress reliver, hockey is our socializing, hockey is our community,” NYCGHA board secretary Steve Lorenzo said. “This isn’t just playing a game, it’s self-care, which is why it’s so important that when we are able to get back on the ice together as an association that we get every person who is here in New York City who is able to skate back on the ice.”
But the association, founded in 1999 by Jeff Kagan and Jeff Minik, doesn’t know exactly when that will be. Lorenzo is waiting to hear from city, state and Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers officials about when the nonprofit association, which provides a competitive and social outlet for the city’s LGBTQ+ community, will be able to return to play.
“We’re in this odd limbo period where we’re waiting for infection rates to go down, where we are looking to see exactly how things are going to shape up for the summer and the fall,” Lorenzo said. “But we want to position ourselves as an organization that when the state and the city and our rink say, ‘This is safe and let’s do it,’ that we are prepared to get back on the ice.”
Donations to the Pride 2021 NYCGHA scholarship fund can be made through PayPal. The association is matching donations up to the first $2,500 raised.
The New York metropolitan area’s other NHL teams are also chipping in. The New York Rangers are donating an autographed jersey of center Mika Zibanejad, a stick signed by defenseman Jacob Trouba, a puck signed by defenseman K’Andre Miller and a framed stick blade autographed by former Ranger Adam Graves for the NYCGHA to auction. The New York Islanders are donating a team-signed jersey and team-signed stick.
The New Jersey Devils helped the association to a fundraising head start in April when they donated the Prudential Center ice for the NYCGHA on April 25 to host a socially distanced scrimmage. Fees from the event raised $1,700, Lorenzo said.
It was there where the online fundraiser idea was born.
“We had a couple of people who said, ‘Look, we’re doing fine right now but we understand there are some people who cannot participate in this because they don’t have the money,'” Lorenzo said. ” ‘Can we anonymously donate and get these people on the ice so they can have a little bit of hockey at a time that they desperately need it?’ “
The association has more than 200 members, LGBTQ+ and straight, on eight teams. Lorenzo said though membership remains strong, some players left New York when the pandemic gripped the city.
Several who stayed found themselves unemployed or working significantly reduced hours, particularly those employed in the city’s restaurants and bars or in the entertainment industry, Lorenzo said.
Pietro Scorsone recently returned to his bartending job in Brooklyn after being unemployed for 14 months. His husband, Brent Barkhaus, is also just getting back to work as a draper in a shop that makes costumes for Broadway shows, movies and television that shuttered during the pandemic.
Each is anxious to return to play with the NYCGHA but said he will need help from the scholarship fund to cover the costs.
“We’re all trying to get back on our feet now, got to take care of debt that we amassed during the pandemic because the bills didn’t go away,” said Scorsone, a forward and captain of one association team. “So affording hockey is definitely a little tough. But we think it’s a necessity. There’s only so much you can cut in life. We’ve pared down to the minimum and taking away the most important activity that brings you joy, that’s tough.”
The mood reflects a sea change from early 2020, when spirits among NYCGHA players were high. The association was coming off a successful Pride Night with the Rangers on March 5, 2020, when Madison Square Garden was awash in rainbow lights and association players participated in a scrimmage on the arena’s ice.
Zibanejad capped the festivities later that night when he scored five goals, including the winner, in a 6-5 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals.
“We started our new rec league the following Sunday,” Lorenzo said. “By the next weekend everything was shut down. I think we all were in denial at first that this wouldn’t be a lengthy hiatus. But as things got darker and darker, we realized that this was something we were going to have to deal with as an organization.”
Lorenzo said he’s looking forward to the NYCGHA rekindling that pre-pandemic feeling of hockey and fellowship soon.
“For our organization, hockey is an essential,” he said. “This isn’t something that any of us were prepared to give up.”