“Hockey,” says Elliot Govaars, “has no gender. Hockey is everything in my life right now.”
The 15-year-old from San Jose, Calif., is a transgender boy and a member of the San Jose Junior Sharks hockey club. He was featured last week in a video produced by the NHL San Jose Sharks for their “Hockey is For Everyone” campaign.
And this past weekend, the team honored Govaars and his Junior Sharks teammates and coaches by inviting them onto the ice before Sunday night’s game with the Calgary Flames. Govaars got to drop the puck on center ice, as the NHL team’s recognition of the Transgender Day of Visibility.
“The puck drop was an amazing experience!” said Marlena Govaars, Elliot’s supportive mom, in an email to Outsports. She and her husband were on the ice for the puck drop as well, and the team tweeted out video with the #TransDayOfVisibility hashtag.
She wrote that she’s “the crying redhead, if you watch.”
We told the story of 15-year-old Elliot earlier this week.— x - San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) April 1, 2019
And tonight, Elliot and his @sanjosejrsharks teammates were on the ice to drop the puck! #HockeyIsForEveryone | #TransDayOfVisibility pic.twitter.com/MGS8d4f1Fx
Unfortunately, the Flames beat the Sharks 5-3 to clinch the Pacific Division title and the number one seed in the West. But for the Junior Sharks, the night was still a once in a lifetime experience made possible by Govaars owning his truth, and his coaches and teammates accepting him when he came out.
“Nothing changed,” says coach Peter Smails. “So when they’re on the ice, they’re players, and we expect the exact same thing from everybody: Respect the game. Respect yourself. Respect your opponents. Respect your teammates. Work hard. Have fun.”
“Hockey has played such an important part in my life for the past three years,” Govaars says in the video by the Sharks. It’s really an outlet for all of my emotions. Nothing matters on the ice. I can just be out there as a player, playing the game, rather than a boy, or a girl, or anything.”
When he came home with the enrollment form three years ago, Marlena Govaars says she was unprepared for her child’s transition to becoming a hockey player. And about a year later, she and Elliot’s stepdad were even less prepared for Elliot to reveal he was transgender.
“‘We need to talk,’” Marlena Govaars recalled Elliot saying. “‘I’m a boy.’ Okay. I was surprised to say the least.”
“From that moment, things improved,” says stepdad Bob Wolff. “That was the unveiling of the darkness.” Wolff said they sought the help of counselors to aid in Elliot and his family’s transition.
But the Govaars family worried that for Elliot to live his truth might cost him a place on the all-girls team. “Do we live true to my son’s gender,” says Marlena Govaars, “or do we lose hockey?”
The answer was another surprise: the Junior Sharks said Elliot didn’t need to choose between the ice and his authenticity.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to show what we can do for kids like Elliot, making this transition,” says girls hockey coordinator Amanda Long.
“If coming out is an important thing to help him develop as a person, there’s no negative,” says Coach Smails. “There’s no downside to that.”
“He works just as hard as the rest of us. He still puts on his jersey just like all the rest of us,” says Elliot’s friend and teammate Bess Newton. “We’re all hockey people. Why should gender be an issue in that?”
“I can only hope each activist athlete who participates and speaks out understands how critical this is for our LGBTQ+ youth,” Marlena Govaars told Outsports in an email. “[Transgender hockey player] Harrison Browne is in no small part responsible for my son to decide to live true to himself, and not feel like he has to ‘hide’ who he is.”
Learn more about Elliot Govaars from the video produced by the NHL Sharks.