As a part of the National Hockey League’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion in hockey, the league and NHL Players’ Association spotlight various community related initiatives all month long.
When the calendar turned to February on Wednesday, Hockey is for Everyone month began. Every day through the month of February, the Hockey is for Everyone initiative will spotlight activities focusing on awareness in the areas of gender and ethnicity, LGBTQ, ethnicity, socio-economic status as well as those with disabilities.
The campaign is conducted in partnership with the You Can Play Project, a non-profit organization committed to supporting the LGBTQ community and fighting homophobia in sports. The Hockey is for Everyone campaign is the first time that the league, its member clubs and the players’ association have collaborated to encourage teamwork, inclusiveness and diversity in hockey at all levels for an entire calendar month.
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman said, “Our clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey. While the NHL family strives for diversity and inclusiveness all year long, February is Hockey is for Everyone month, which will highlight on a daily basis, the many ways our sport brings greater attention, heightened awareness and broader opportunities.”
The teams will host Hockey is for Everyone nights throughout the month, honoring and recognizing hockey players from all ages and diverse backgrounds. From sled hockey players, to blind players, youth boys’ and girls’ programs, special needs players and even recent immigrants.
The Toronto Maple Leafs against the Buffalo Sabres game on February 11, on Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada and the NBCSports Wednesday Night Rivalry game between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers, will be national broadcast games for Hockey is for Everyone month. During those two games fans are encouraged to share their stories on how hockey has impacted their lives, using the hashtag #HockeyIsForEveryone.
Each NHL team has designated one player to be their club’s You Can Play ambassador. The team’s ambassador will be the team leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality and inclusion. Every team will also designate on home game as their You Can Play night. The team will celebrate members of their local LGBTQ community, through ceremonial puck drops, anthem singers, hometown heroes and with Pride Tape during the pregame warmups.
Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director said, “Players are proud to partner with You Can Play and the NHL on the Hockey is for Everyone campaign this month. The initiatives and conversations taking place in February will continue to promote inclusion and diversity in our game and help ensure that hockey truly is for everyone.”
Throughout the month select member clubs will offer screenings of Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future. The film which premiered last season, tells the stories of black hockey players throughout history. Some of the NHL Alumni who have helped pave the way for today’s stars and future prospects are featured in the film, include Hockey is for Everyone ambassador, Willie O’Ree, 2017 NHL All Star Most Valuable Player, Wayne Simmonds and NHL100 member Grant Fuhr.
On Wednesday, members of the New York Islanders, competed in a wheelchair hockey game against students with disabilities from the Henry Viscardi School at the Viscardi Center. The students’ competitive spirit and determination helped lead them to a 3-2 victory in the waning minutes of the competition.
Islanders’ defenseman, Scott Mayfield said, “You can tell there was some competition out there. They wanted to win. They kept saying they had to get the extra goal at the end.”
He added, “We enjoyed it, I think more than they did, maybe. It is not an easy sport out there. It is definitely harder than what we do on the ice. My forearms are pretty tired.”
The Viscardi Center is a private, state supported school for children throughout Long Island and the five boroughs, with severe physical disabilities.
In talking about the initiative, defenseman, Calvin de Haan said, “It is a great slogan. It is a good way to try to grow the game to all walks of life. Obviously, some of these children are underprivileged but they enjoy playing sports with us and trying new things. They do not take it for granted and it is a lot of fun to see them smile.”
Many of the Viscardi students play basketball, whiffleball and soccer and have hosted other teams such as the New York Mets, Harlem Globetrotters and New York Cosmos. Against the Islanders on Wednesday they brought their “A” game.
Viscardi President and Chief Executive Officer, John D. Kemp said, “They are very serious athletes. We play all the sports. We adapted to their needs but we play to win.”
He added, “It is fantastic that the Islanders come out here and play our Viscardi team. We are proud to play them competitively and play to win, and this year we got lucky on a last second breakaway and did it. It says a lot about the character, about our team and the Islanders. I am very proud of the Islanders for doing it.”
The late-game drama the students produced with Mayfield, de Haan, Anthony Beauvillier and Shane Prince, was helped out as a student named Emma came up big on two saves to keep the game tied at two, before Nettie found the back of the net with the game winner, completing the hat trick.
Nettie had said, “It was a great thing. It was very nerve wracking because everyone was yelling my name. It was really nice.”
The Islanders even left with a sense of gratification, de Haan said, “It was a fairy-tale ending. Win or lose everyone had a blast.”
Beauvillier added, “Coming here and seeing the smiles on those kids faces means everything to me. We are role models for most of those kids. It is just nice giving back and taking an hour-and-a-half just to do that. It is everything to them.”
The Capitals on Wednesday night as part of their Hockey is for Everyone night, celebrated Chinese Cultural night. At their morning skate at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, on January 23, they were joined by players from the Beijing Primary School.
They also hosted youth players from Beijing, as well as players from the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, DC, the American Special Hockey Association and others from Kettler Capital Iceplex programs, at their game against the Boston Bruins, on February 1.
Upon seeing the players from Beijing, Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz became more appreciative about how much the game of hockey has spread throughout the world.
He said, “If you did not know these kids are from Beijing, China, you would think they are from North American with their skill level. They were all having fun. They were working on their skills. They were telling me there are like 100 teams over there about this age group. There is a lot of girls and boys playing. That is great for both genders to be playing and enjoying our sport and growing our sport.”
The full calendar for all the events each team and the league will be sponsoring during Hockey is for Everyone month can be found at www.nhl.com/hockeyisforeveryone.