NHL announces plans for 'Hockey Is For Everyone' month

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/was/" data-ylk="slk:Washington Capitals">Washington Capitals</a> goaltender Braden Holtby marches in the 2016 Capital Pride Parade.
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby marches in the 2016 Capital Pride Parade.

In February the NHL, NHLPA and NHL member clubs will focus on the inclusive nature of their game in the “Hockey Is For Everyone Month” initiative, the league announced Wednesday.

The NHL pointed out that this is the first time the league, the Players’ Association and member clubs have all “collaborated to encourage teamwork, inclusiveness and diversity in hockey at all levels daily for an entire calendar month.”

The campaign will be conducted in partnership with the You Can Play Project, the organization co-founded by Patrick Burke, a member of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and son of Calgary Flames president Brian Burke. The mission of You Can Play “works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports – including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.”

“This is making history. We got full top down support from the league, the PA and all 30 clubs. That has never been done before (with us),” said Jillian Svensson, vice president of development and operations for You Can Play.

In the release announcing the initiative, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman highlighted the importance of the month and what it means for diversity in hockey.

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“Our clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey,” Bettman said. “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.”

Teams will host Hockey Is For Everyone nights during the month, “honoring and recognizing hockey players of all ages from diverse backgrounds including: sled hockey players, blind players, youth boys and girls players, special needs players, and recent immigrants.”

Select teams will also make one home game a You Can Play night in order to honor members of the LGBTQ community with ceremonial puck drops, anthem singers and features on local heroes. Pride tape will be used during pregame warm-up.

Sportsnet’s broadcast of the Toronto Maple Leafs. vs. Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 11 and NBCSN’s broadcast of the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 22 “will be dedicated as Hockey Is For Everyone national broadcast nights.

Teams this season have made one player a You Can Play ambassador who has been “a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion.”

“It’s incredible. It’s absolutely incredible,”Svensson said. “It’s a testament to the leadership with the league, the PA and all of the clubs. We have been really working hard together to make sure that we’re able to facilitate any questions on behalf of all of the clubs, the PA and the league. And so for us it has been a work in progress. To have this traction and to be able to come up with such a unified message is a testament to what the league is putting their stamp on and what they’re standing for.”

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Said NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider in a statement, “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.”

The Washington Capitals had previously announced some of their plans for the month. In late December, the team invited UAE women’s hockey player Fatima Al Ali to a game at Verizon Center in February. Capitals legend Peter Bondra met Al Ali in a November trip to Abu Dhabi and was impressed with her dedication to hockey.

“It feels good. I feel good about this whole thing,” Bondra told Puck Daddy in December. “We did something good and definitely she deserves the invitation. I think she accepted the invitation, which is good. It’s good for her. You can see how much love for the game she has.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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