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Hockey Star Honors Pride, Brendan Burke

Hockey Star Honors Pride, Brendan Burke

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He's a longtime Detroit Red Wings fan with family ties to the team that date back 35 years, yet Andrew Sobotka (pictured) is now living in Chicago and is forming ties with the team's archrival -- the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sobotka's dad, Al, is the building operations manager for Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings -- and the namesake of the team's famed mascot, Al the Octopus. But all the younger Sobotka talks about these days is the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Particularly, the Stanley Cup.

Sobotka, 24, is the president of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association, a group of players ranging in age from their early 20s into their 50s. They are the city's only predominantly gay hockey team -- and one of about 20 in North America. Known as the Chicago Blackwolves, the CGHA players are devout Blackhawk fans, including Sobotka, except when it's a Chicago-Detroit game. So, for the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 27, the CGHA sent an invitation to the Blackhawks -- players, coaches, broadcasters, front-office staff and even the Cup -- to join as they walk and Rollerblade the parade route through Lakeview on Chicago's north side.

Well, the Cup is coming, it was announced Tuesday. And so is Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel.

"We're thrilled and honored," said Sobotka. "To have the Cup and a member of the Stanley Cup champions join us in the pride parade is amazing. We hope the whole city of Chicago shows up at the pride parade to once again salute the champs and show our citywide pride in the Blackhawks."

Sopel volunteered to represent the Blackhawks and join the CGHA for the parade, along with his wife, Kelly, and four children: Jacob, 12; Lyla, 8; Jayla, 6; and Paul, 2. He is marching in honor of Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who was killed in a car accident two months after coming out as gay late last year. Sopel was drafted by the elder Burke.

"I am honored to do it," Sopel told the Chicago Sun-Times. The Blackhawks traded Sopel to the Atlanta Thrashers this week, but he will still participate in the Chicago parade.

Sobotka says his team will also be marching in honor of Burke, who was a student manager of the hockey team at Miami University of Ohio.

"[This year] has been a hard year for the overlapping worlds of human sexuality and hockey," Sobotka said. "The loss of Brendan Burke was tragic. He opened the door for our issues to be put into the context of hockey, and we are humbled to wear his memorial patch in the pride parade."

He says the participation of professional sports teams in this year's pride parade has the potential to mean big things for professional athletes -- the fact that the Blackhawks rerouted the Stanley Cup so Sopel could carry it in the parade is huge.

"The Cubs have a float in the parade, and they are sending a Baseball Hall of Famer, the man affectionately known as Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, to ride on their float," Sobotka said. "The Hawks have a ton of new commitments and obligations, not to mention requests, after winning the Cup. That the Blackhawks actually wanted to participate and rerouted the Cup for this is remarkable. And that Brent Sopel actually volunteered to represent his team; everyone is so thrilled."

The CGHA includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight players, and the team plays in a straight league in suburban Northbrook. The Chicago pride parade is one of the city's best-attended parades -- attracting more than 450,000 onlookers -- and one of the largest pride parades in the world.

"This year's pride parade will be, without question, the biggest hockey day ever for most of the CGHA members,and one of the biggest days for Chicago's LGBT sporting community, which is one of the largest in the nation," Sobotka said.

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