For many married couples, planning a regular date night can be the secret to marital bliss. For some couples, those date nights can find them lacing up the skates at their local ice rink.
As hockey’s popularity continues to grow in places like North Carolina, so does the number of husbands and wives who find that a night on ice is the perfect evening out.
Bryan and Georgia Taylor are one of a growing number of couples who escape the stresses of daily life by hitting the ice. Like many married couples in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area, the Taylors lead busy lives. Bryan is a veterinarian while Georgia teaches at a nearby high school.
The couple didn’t exactly grow up on skates, but like many in the south, their interest in hockey peaked with the arrival of an NHL team. But it wasn’t until the Dallas Stars went on their Stanley Cup run in 1999 that Bryan and Georgia started following the sport closely, and fell in love with the excitement of the game, and a few other things.
“For him it was the action, for me it was Mike Modano,” Georgia says with a laugh.
At the time Bryan didn’t even know there were hockey leagues for adults, but once he and Georgia learned to skate they decided to look into playing. Bryan started playing in an adult league as soon as he felt comfortable enough with his skating. Soon after, Georgia took an all-women’s skills and drills class that Bryan helped coach.
The Taylors were in that class with Cindy and Kenny Hamilton. Kenny grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and started playing hockey when he was 15 years old. A native of West Virginia, Cindy had only roller skated and wasn’t a hockey fan before meeting Kenny. That changed once they got married.
“I bought her a pair of hockey skates and said ‘There you go, you’re not going to be a figure skater in this family,’ ” Kenny says. With her husband’s encouragement, Cindy moved quickly from learning to skate to buying pads and a stick. Pretty soon, she was playing too.
“From the moment I sat on the bench the first time, I was hooked,” she recalls.
Kenny says he loved having the chance to coach his wife and pass his love for the sport on to her. He says she now plays hard every shift and isn’t afraid to go after a loose puck in the crease. However, he jokes, there are other benefits when your wife happens to love your favorite sport.
“It makes it so much easier when you say ‘Hey I’m going out to play hockey’ and she’s going with you,” Kenny says. “She’s the one who tells me the [Carolina] Hurricanes are playing [on TV]. So it’s perfect. Plus when you come home all banged up she knows why, and she’s feeling the same way.”
Bryan then started a regular co-ed pick-up hockey game in Winston-Salem. The Friday night skates are still a fixture where players of all genders and skill levels come to play a relaxed, non-competitive game.
“Especially during pickup games, I find myself trying to set her up to shoot on goal. I’m pretty proud of her. She’s done really well,” Bryan says.
Soon after the Taylors started playing, Bryan organized the players at pick-up games into an adult league team called the Ice Holes. Both the Taylors and Hamiltons played for the team in an adult league at the nearby Greensboro [N.C.] Ice House.
With an 18-month-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, playing hockey gives the Taylors a long night out. The rink in Greensboro is about an hour away from their home, so the commute and the game give them plenty of quality time together.
“For us it’s kind of a date night,” Bryan says. “If I gave her a choice of dates she might choose something else, but it’s a nice activity that we can do together.”
Cindy, who was converted to the sport by her husband, now says she is a complete fan of the game. She no longer plays in a competitive league, but still loves the camaraderie of pick-up games. But the best thing about the game for her is being on the ice with her husband.
“I love to play, but I really love to play with Kenny,” she says. “I could get on a competitive team somewhere, but what I want to do is play hockey with Kenny.”
They’re very supportive of me. ... They really make me feel like a part of the team.
Georgia continues to play on the league team with Bryan, who is the team’s captain. She agrees with Cindy that the camaraderie you find on a hockey team is a big part of what keeps her coming back, even if you can’t share a locker room with most of the team.
“They’re very supportive of me and very encouraging, and not so critical. They really make me feel like a part of the team,” she says.
The Taylors oldest child, Bonnie Jo, is already skating. Georgia hopes when their children get a bit older that hockey date nights can turn into family nights. She believes that seeing Mom and Dad playing a sport together can send a strong message to their children.
“I think it will be very encouraging to them,” she says. “Anytime parents are doing something together as a couple it strengthens that life bond that makes you a better mom and dad. With a strong husband-wife bond that makes us better parents.”
It’s not a stretch to say hockey has been a significant part of the Hamiltons’ married life; an activity that has enriched their lives and their marriage.
“We enjoy hockey on a lot of levels,” Cindy says. “We talk about it, we watch it on television, we play the sport together; but one of our favorite pictures is the two of us with the Stanley Cup. It’s not a formal picture, but it was a fun moment the two of us had together.”