Seattle Pride Hockey League group photo 2

Joey Gale had been getting the question since 2019.

“When they’d hear about our organization or they find out about what we do, one of the first questions is, ‘Well, when are you starting a league?’” said Gale, vice president and co-founder of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association. “Or, ‘How do I participate in your league?’ They almost assume we have one.”

Now that league has come to fruition.

The Seattle Pride Hockey League launched with its first four games April 6 at Sno-King Ice Arenas in Kirkland, Washington, about 20 minutes northwest of Seattle. The NHL and NHLPA Industry Growth Fund donated money to help launch the league, which features four teams and 70 players participating in an 18-game season that runs through the end of August.

Eighty percent of the league’s participants represent the LGBTQ+ community, and the goal is to foster an inclusive environment for all hockey players.

“To finally be able to say that we indeed have a league, that it’s full of 70 participants that were majority LGBTQ+ players is so exciting for us,” Gale said. “The fact that we were able to do it so quickly, given the NHL’s financial support, it was sort of the ignition we needed to push this across the launch line.”

Seattle Pride Hockey League group photo 1

The SPHA created the Seattle Pride Classic in 2021. That year there were four teams of 56 participants competing over a weekend, and the event continued to grow. With the popularity of the Classic and the desire to start a league, SPHA president and co-founder Steven Thompson approached the Kraken Hockey League last year and asked if the association could start a division within its league with two or four teams.

Thompson got the green light.

“So, I sent out an Expression of Interest and when 150 people responded within a couple of days, I thought, ‘OK, we’re really on to something here,’” said Thompson, who then talked with Nora Cothren, manager of multicultural content and audience development for NHL Productions, regarding financial support options.

NHL celebrates Seattle Pride Hockey Association

“When she came back and said we had $12,000 (from the Industry Growth Fund) for you, I jumped into hyperdrive and made it happen so fast. It was super exciting. So, it’s just a rush of overwhelming, positive emotions getting this ready.”

Dean Pertner, who plays for SPHL Passion, said the league has been “life-changing for me.”

“Growing up closeted, playing hockey my whole life, you always kind of feel like you’re the only one that is LGBTQ+,” he said. “Then to see nearly a whole league of, whether they’re allies or LGBTQ+ teammates, I would never have believed you if you would’ve told me that 20 years ago.”

The options for LGBTQ+ hockey players continue to grow in Seattle. The fourth annual Seattle Pride Classic, which will be held June 7-9, will feature 20 teams and nearly 300 participants. As for the new league, it already has a wait list of those wanting to join.

Seattle Pride Hockey League action 1

Is there a chance the league expands next season?

“We’re eager and excited to just see how operating this league progresses through the season,” Gale said. “We are all volunteers, both Steven and I are co-founders of the organization, so all of the hours we put into the organization are purely out of love.

“As we look at expanding, we want to make sure this season goes as smoothly and successfully as possible. But knowing us, I can only imagine we’ll be double the size next year and will have a wait list of who knows how many.”

Until then, those who are participating in the league’s first season are grateful for its existence.

“It makes me really happy,” SPHL Passion skater Chris Lutton said. “It gives me hope for the future and I hope this just being here and just having the visibility for other people who maybe aren’t in this place where they’re ready to be out and open, playing hockey, I just hope it helps at least some people in that regard.

“Growing up, just having some visibility at a higher level in hockey would’ve made a world of difference for me personally. So, it just makes me happy, and my mind’s still blown that it actually came to fruition.”

Seattle Pride Hockey League action 2