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Seattle’s Pride Hockey Association Brings the Fun with the Annual Seattle Pride Hockey Classic

By Brianna Rhone, 06/12/24, 9:45AM MDT

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The organization held their fourth annual pride tournament June 7-9 in Seattle

There was a slew of sticks decorated with Pride Tape inside the Kraken Community Iceplex in Seattle this past weekend as more than 300 athletes and 20 teams hit the ice at the 2024 Seattle Pride Classic. Not only were they competing for the iconic Seattle Pride Classic trophy, but, more importantly, they were joining together in celebration of the LGBTQ+ hockey community. 

Having an entire weekend dedicated to the celebration of hockey and inclusivity was something Joey Gale, a co-founder of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association, has long been committed to.

Gale and fellow co-founder Steven Thompson recognized there was ample opportunity to create an organization that worked to foster diversity and inclusion in hockey five years ago. Coinciding with the birth of the Seattle Kraken, Gale and Thompson understood there was a huge LGBTQ+ hockey fanbase in the Pacific Northwest that could be tapped into. The Seattle Pride Hockey Association believed it could help foster a safe place to play hockey, learn about hockey and watch hockey, while interest in the sport continued to prosper thanks to the Kraken.  

“We founded back in 2019, right as the [Seattle] Kraken were just becoming to be,” Gale said. “We knew there was an opportunity to build on the momentum of an NHL team coming to Seattle, build on the hype of hockey coming to what really turned out to be a hockey town,” Gale said. “We knew there was an opportunity to create an organization that was focused on building inclusion and diversity and equity in the sport. 

“Around that time, we gathered a few folks in the basement of a local hockey arena and created and founded what we call the Seattle Pride Hockey Association.”

Gale knew from the very beginning he had an opportunity to transform lives with the organization, helping the LGBTQ+ and its allies in the greater Seattle area not only find community, but also simultaneously help grow the game.

The Seattle Pride Hockey Association believes hockey can be used as a common language to communicate difficult conversations among friends and family and unite those of different backgrounds. 

To commemorate Pride Month, the Seattle Pride Hockey Association hosts the Seattle Pride Hockey Classic every year. The tournament started in 2021 with only four teams and 56 athletes. Looking to have a fun tournament for members of the Seattle LGBTQ+ hockey community, Gale knew he had something special when the spectator tickets for the first tournament sold out within eight hours. 

The tournament has not only allowed former hockey players to return to the game they love, but it has also opened the door for many curious skaters to learn the ins-and-outs of the game. 

“I’d say about 10 to 15 percent are either brand new to the sport or just started playing within the last year,” Gale said. “We have an abundance of Learn to Play hockey programs out here in Seattle. The Seattle Pride actually just created a new training series back in April for players to come out and sort of sharpen their skills or get more familiar with the sport. 

“It's really remarkable to see just how many new folks are coming into the game.”

The tournament weekend features many different events, including an all-star game featuring the “Alaska Airlines: All Stars of Pride.” 

Tournament participants will nominate the athlete they believe highlighted education, opportunity, and growth on and off the ice. These participants represent the keystone standards of the Seattle Pride event, challenging bigotry on and off the ice, educating others, opening doors for those in the pride community to have the opportunity to play hockey and creating a safe and inclusive hockey environment for those who lace up their skates.

“Since day one of our first Seattle Pride Classic, the vision has always been to create the most inclusive pride hockey tournament in the country or in the world and that's always been sort of our never-ending mission.” Gale said. “We want to create a space where everyone feels welcome. We want to create a  space where hockey feels like it's accessible to everyone. To now be able to do this, it brings us so much joy. It's been a vision and a dream of ours for quite some time. To be able to be this model for others around the country and around the world, we're grateful. We’re grateful that people trust us and want to play hockey in Seattle, and we feel a really sort of deep and profound commitment to champion the growth of the LGBTQ+ hockey community.” 

For many tournament participants who grew up watching hockey, seeing themselves represented in players like Luke Prokop, the first openly out gay player in the National Hockey League, is no small feat. Prokop was a special guest at this weekend’s tournament, bringing smiles and words of encouragement for the athletes. Although Prokop hasn’t played an NHL game just yet, his accomplishments have been far-reaching for the LGBTQ+ community. The tournament also welcomed Stanley Cup champion Andrew Ference and J.T Brown, the Seattle Kraken’s TV analyst and member of the 2012 U.S. Men’s National Team. 

“It shows that the commitment of these individuals really spans from the professional level all the way down to rec league hockey,” Gale said. “Seeing these athletes all together representing and celebrating the Pride community is so important, not only for an adult league player who might just be getting into the sport to youth players who might feel like they don't have a place in hockey, or they might feel unwelcome or feel that homophobia is too prevalent. We're out here to say that's not the case and we’re here to support you.”

As the weekend winds down and players leave the rink, they take with them not only fond memories, but lifelong connections. 

“We really want to build community and building these friendships,” Gale said. “Creating lifelong teammates is so important for the sport and so important for the pride community. To build and create those friendships and build that community together is really what's at the core of the Seattle Pride Classic. Yes, we get to hoist trophies and we get to celebrate and score goals and nominate MVPs and all that good stuff, but at the end of the day it's really about building community.

“We want to continue to be a model for inclusion. There are dozens of Pride tournaments just like ours all over the country and all over the world at different times of year. We hope to be sort of the gold standard so that other organizations can learn from us. We want to be a helpful resource for any organizers or tournaments that want to create an inclusive space. At the end of the day, we really want everyone to have fun. That's what it's about, playing a sport we love and celebrating together.”

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