Joey Gale is a gay man who helped start the Seattle Pride Hockey Association. | Alley Rutzel

When the NHL and league commissioner Gary Bettman decided to ban Pride Tape and the use of Pride-themed warm-up jerseys from the league’s ice, hockey fan Alley Rutzel was — how shall we say this — not pleased.

The professional photographer — who is not LGBTQ — went to work. She wanted to raise her own response to the move, as well as bring visibility to the LGBTQ community in hockey, given the NHL’s move would diminish that on their ice.

So she created a photo essay — Breaking The Ice — featuring images and first-person accounts from five out LGBTQ ice hockey players, mostly in her hometown of Seattle.

“As an avid hockey fan and season ticket holder of the Seattle Kraken, I was dismayed when the NHL announced last year that teams were no longer allowed to wear “specialty” jerseys during warmups, practices or games,” Rutzel told Outsports. “Additionally, the use of Pride Tape, a rainbow-colored stick tape that’s been used in support of the LGBTQ+ community for several seasons, would also be banned.”

Cam is a trans youth who started playing hockey when they were 9. Photo by Alley Rutzel | Alley Rutzel

While the NHL and Bettman have maintained the ban on Pride jerseys during warmups — designed to placate a small handful of anti-gay players — the league now allows players to use Pride Tape on their sticks after a tidal wave of backlash.

While the lifting of the Pride Tape ban is appreciated by Rutzel, she still sees an issue of visibility and understanding in hockey that she aims to help address.

“It was a clear signal that more needs to be done to foster greater acceptance and understanding in hockey. My goal for this project is to drive greater awareness of LGBTQ+ athletes and hopefully encourage young athletes who might otherwise quit playing ice hockey in the face of homophobia and discrimination.”

The photo essay currently features gorgeous images of five out LGBTQ hockey players.

Joey Gale is a co-founder of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association and struggled to marry his gay self with the sport.

With the Seattle Pride Hockey Association, we’ve created a space where everyone can feel welcome and supported,” Gale wrote for Breaking The Ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my love of the game to make a positive impact in the world and to continue pushing for progress towards a more inclusive future.”

Cam is a trans youth who has been playing hockey since they were 9. In the essay, they tell a great story about one of their teammates coming to their defense in a powerful way.

“My teammates and coaches have always been supportive,” Cam wrote. “I came out to my teammates before I told my parents.”

Kao Lawrie is a trans hockey player who has been playing the sport since they were a teenager. Photo by Alley Rutzel | Alley Rutzel

Kao Lawrie is also trans. They play hockey in LGBTQ hockey events, and recently played with Team Trans at the Seattle Pride tournament.

“After years of driving home sweaty after games, I now look forward to being able to shower with the team,” Lawrie wrote. “Feeling like I could just access all the spaces at the rink without worrying about homophobia or transphobia, especially after top surgery, is a dream.”

Rutzel features a couple other out LGBTQ hockey players for Breaking The Ice.

To see all of the gorgeous images of the out athletes, visit Alley Rutzel’s Breaking The Ice photo essay. You can also find her on Instagram.