As a school kid growing up in Seattle, Steven Thompson's dad took him to see Seattle Thunderbirds games in the Western Hockey League, including any number on the Seattle Center campus. He remembers his dad most always purchased seats along the front-row glass, making it tradition for Thompson to bang on the glass when T-Birds skated his way.
Fast-forward to the 2015-16 season, when Thompson's passion for hockey aligned with the Thunderbirds rise in the WHL standings and the starring play of forward Mathew Barzal, currently a top player with the NHL's New York Islanders.
In the spring of 2017, the T-Birds won the WHL championship, inspiring Thompson to do more than cheer on his favorite team. By November, he engaged in private power skating lessons with a local coach, Molly Doner of the Kent Valley Hockey Association.
For beginners and wannabe hockey players of all ages, learning how to power skate is a highly recommended first step, leaving the stick and puck aside as you endeavor to master the ice on blades. It's no coincidence that NHL Seattle GM Ron Francis and his hockey operations staff evaluate a player's potential almost always with skating ability as the starting point.
"It propelled my skating ability in just a few months," says Thompson about Doner's lessons. "Molly played [NCAA] Division I hockey at the University of Wisconsin. She's phenomenal, very talented. She becomes invested in her students."
The next step for Thompson was joining an adult recreational team in the nearly 3,000-member Greater Seattle Hockey League in January 2018. That's when things, well, became interesting.
"During my first game, I realized as player I didn't understand offside and icing," says Thompson. "I knew the concepts as a fan, but in my first game I would stand in the offensive zone [not knowing the puck needs to enter before players]. I also dump the puck out of our [defensive] zone to the opposite goal line, which of course is icing."
Thompson's teammates did their best to be supportive, explaining how their newest forward needed to navigate offsides and icing calls. "I was so overwhelmed, the endorphins were flowing," says Thompson. "It took a while for me to get it right."
Since then, Thompson developed into a defenseman (that power skating work is vital for defenders who skate backwards frequently, plus need superior lateral footwork. He learned so much about the sport and its rules, including the system-oriented styles of play that even some of his adult-league player-coaches deployed for GSHL games. Thompson has founded three "Trash Pandas" teams (named after raccoons) and in March 2019, Thompson joined the GSHL as director of league operations. He has helped grow the GSHL by adding several dozen new teams, hundreds of new players and several new programs. All of which positions him as an ideal co-founder of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association or SPHA.
"I have become close with a lot of team captains who are all progressive and accepting," says Thompson. "I was nervous to started playing as a gay man in a hyper-masculine sport. I was fortunate that my first team, by coincidence, had three female players and another gay male."
Thompson and Cole started discussing a mutual desire for the GSHL to be more inclusive of gay players and continue to recruit more females to teams. In the fall of 2018, Thompson and the GHSL hosted a hockey skills clinic for interested new players. At the end of the clinic, Thompson saw Joey Gale, just moved to town for an advertising, walking out with his hockey bag and a couple of sticks, one stick blade covered with "pride tape," a rainbow-colored version of the black tape players use to make a puck more sticky to the blade. Thompson and Gale started a conversation that has since developed in a plan to launch the SPHA as support organization rather than a league.
"We want to be a voice and support system for anybody who wants to play or who knows how to play but doesn't play because they might be nervous about it," says Thompson. "We're not about forming a gay team or any exclusive team. We want to be inclusive and bring hockey closer to underrepresented groups."
SPHA co-founder Gale says "who you are and who you love shouldn't be a barrier" to playing hockey. He and Thompson recruited a number of different GSHL players over the last six to eight months to help share the GSHA message of diversity and inclusion. The founders reached out to NHL Seattle and the You Can Play Project to partner on LGBTQ+ inclusion for Seattle-area players.
The SPHA website informs the new organization's mission and purpose: "The Seattle Pride Hockey Association (SPHA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization geared towards the growth of the sport of ice hockey through diversity and inclusion. We seek to welcome anyone to the sport who wishes to be a part of it. You do not need to be a long-time hockey player to join the SPHA. Anyone over age 18 with an open mind and a love for hockey is welcome. The SPHA currently has players within the Greater Seattle Hockey League (GSHL) and hosts tournaments and events throughout the Greater Seattle area. We also work with to bring awareness and openness to the great sport of hockey."
SPHA's ally, the You Can Play Project, works with the NHL and other levels of hockey, plus additional sports in North America and the globe. "Traditional hockey still has a lot of slurs," says Jonas Worth, YCP's director of partnerships and development. "We have to all take it upon ourselves if it is happening in a locker room or among fans attending a game to object. You want the entire locker room to call the person out."
One example of SPHA's early work was plan the Seattle Pride Classic 2020, inviting teams from the U.S. and Canada to play in a tournament in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and hockey. The tourney was slated for this late-June weekend at Olympicview Arena in Mountlake Terrace on Friday and Saturday with Sunday reserved for marching in Seattle Pride parade. The tourney and parade were both cancelled due to COVID-19.
"So much time, thought, energy and love were put into the Seattle Pride Classic," says Thompson. "We just getting traction in early March. When possible again, we want to host tournaments. We want to gain allies. We are thinking about creating patches with the SPHA logos that players can wear to drum up support. We plan to be out in the community."