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Gold Tenders

by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
Nov. 2002

Anyone who knows a little about gay hockey teams, or any hockey teams, would have figured that Canada would have taken the gold in Sydney at Gay Games VI. Montreal did just that.

But while the San Francisco Quakes certainly expected to put in a good effort, even they were surprised to win the B-division gold medal.

I met with the Quakes at Yerba Buena's Ice Rink, where they continue to compete against local teams. Although they lost that night's match against the Puckheads, the top-ranked team in that division, their joy from Sydney had hardly faded.

David Shimabukuro said that, "It's very different playing at the Games and playing here. The feeling is very different," he said, of his return after visiting Melbourne and Bangkok.

Others jokingly used jet lag as the cause of their loss, including Mike Keihl.

"It's the first time, as a team, that we've won anything at a tournament, so it was a pleasant surprise," Keihl said. "Everyone just played the best they could."

Since not everyone could trek to Sydney, they picked up one player from Australia, and brought a defense player from Colorado.

Mark Bonine, a three-year Quakes member, was inspired by watching the hockey in Amsterdam. With no sports experience, he got on the ice and learned how to play.

"It takes a lot of coordination," he said. "You fall down. A lot." His highlight is having scored a tying goal in the last period of a game, which led to the gold medal round.

Getting to the ice was one accomplishment. When asked about their sport, or even asked to take their picture, the crew told them about ice hockey, which took place in suburban Canturbury. Said Bonine, "Most locals didn't even know where it was, but they were very friendly."

For Michelle Matechuk, playing on a mixed team is no big deal.

"I'm a bit smaller than the other guys, but otherwise it's great. Speed has more to do with size." She played hockey in Canada, and understandably also rooted for her home country in other games.

With five Quakes years under his belt, John Heine also competed with them the Quakes in Amsterdam at Gay Games V.

In the four years since, they've played in international tournaments, with LA, Vancouver, Toronto, and some US teams. "We got to know the people we were playing against in Sydney, and they're very nice," he said.

Not that that means nice playing. "It was very rough." Heine said. "They wanted to kill us. We were the underdogs." The key game with Vancouver ended in their victory 2-1, guaranteeing their gold-silver game.

"We're going to cherish this medals for at least next six months, but the people we beat will remember it for four years."

Marcus Howell, in his third year of playing hockey, played other other sports, mostly soccer. "but I don't play like a newbie."

"You don't get a chance to play hockey out here," he said of the rare pleasure. And although the league levels back home are different, he looks upon Sydney with relish, since he scored five goals there.

Karen McAfee, the Quakes' team founder, had nothing but praise for the evolution of her team in the six years since its inception.

"There guys are awesome," she said. "They really brought it. We worked so hard, with only ten players, which is the minimum required. A lot of others had fifteen to seventeen players."

McAfee had skated, but never played on organized teams before creating the Quakes. "This being our first big victory is great. We hope to grow two teams, eventually, in A and B division. That way it can expand for people of all levels. We all get along fine, being advanced and beginners, but we think it'll work better."

"The local league is a little more physical than it was in Sydney. Even though we were all playing for a medal. The officiating was better. It wasn't as violent, even for hockey."

Brian Harrington agreed. "The refs here don't pay attention. That's when it becomes dangerous. Some of the stuff they let go here is terrible."

He referred to a Puckhead goalie who did a double-handed slash (hitting with a stick from overhead). The player only received a two-minute penalty.

The Quakes' goalie, Simon Canning of Montreal, has been playing for 47 years, and seen more than his share of slashes.

Of his Great North upbringing, he said, "It's in your blood. You're practically given a stick at birth. I started playing at two and was a goalie at six. The level of playing is better there, since hockey is cheaper up there to rent a rink. Compare $500 an hour here to $37 in Canada. That's $37 Canadian."

Hockey in Canada may come cheap, but its teams are gloriously golden.

Henri Giroux of Montreal's team started his team ten years ago. They won silver in Amsterdam in the finals, and gold in New York in '94.

"Our goal was to get it back, so everybody's happy," said Giroux. "It's a big project, coming from so far, to get organized. We play for the fun, but it's a very competitive sport once you get in."

Defeating Toronto, Vancouver and Australia/World teams twice proved a lot of work. It hasn't always been a Canadian sweep. In '94, Los Angeles almost took the gold. Other games played in their gay league include four other teams. The Montreal 2002 gold medal team is culled from each of those.

"We decided that whoever wanted to join could play," said Giroux.

Pierre Sicott, also from Montreal, started the Dragons in 1992. "That same year we organized a tournament, which has been going on for seven years," he said. "We succeeded in creating a mixed tournament, men and women." Their next tournament will be in April 2003.

At age 52, Sicott said, "I keep telling myself I gotta stop, but I don't."

"Four years ago, when people expressed interest in going, some couldn't, because of financial issues," he said. "We did fundraisers for a year, and raised $15,000. We paid their trips, saying, 'You work, you help, we raise the money,' and they got to go."

During their time in Sydney, the Dragons spent every day together, either playing or celebrating. Sicott disregards the idea of elitism in their sport.

"People of all skills get out on the ice," he said. "Whatever happens, we win or lose, it's as a team. Years ago, the best players wanted only other best players, but we said no. Let's bring in people, not for their talent, but for participation, for who they are."

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