By Cynthia Wang
July 18, 2011 12:00 PM

He’s a newlywed in real life (to real estate executive Lauren Skaar) and on TV (to Jada Pinkett Smith on their TNT medical drama HawthoRNe), but Michael Vartan is the first to admit his heart really belongs to hockey. “Playing twice a week is like church, therapy and exercise rolled into one,” says Vartan, 42. “It’s such a Zen and cathartic sport.”

The actor grew up in soccer-mad France but became a hockey devotee soon after seeing his first game at 6. “At the NHL level, it’s so violent, so awesome,” he says. “What’s not to love?” He took to the ice himself at 20, but practiced for a whole year before entering his first game. “I didn’t want to be the guy with the shiny new equipment who couldn’t skate backwards,” says Vartan, who has since played in a pickup league near his L.A. home for more than 20 years.

Now he’s passing on his passion to Skaar, whom he wed in April. “Well, she really has no choice,” he says. “I told her, ‘Honey, I’ll cook and clean, but I’m watching the game!'”