February was “Hockey is for Everyone” month across the NHL, which was a commitment with the You Can Play organization in support of equality in the game.
A few of the team ambassadors, Curtis McKenzie, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell decided to speak about the importance of the You Can Play campaign in a Players’ Tribune article. They all reflected on the tragic death of Brendan Burke, his love of hockey, and why the game should be inclusive for all.
“The goal here is to raise awareness and be proactive so one day we won’t even have projects like this,” said McKenzie, forward for the Dallas Stars. “Acceptance and tolerance should be the norm, and I take a lot of pride in the fact that hockey is one of the leaders in this battle. When people reach out on social media and say things like, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, you’re my favorite player now!’ that really brings a smile to my face.
“It’s great that we’re allowing casual fans an avenue to be interested in the sport — outside of what happens on the ice.”
Van Riemsdyk claimed it is an issue he was previously aware of, but one he never seriously thought about until he talked to Brendan’s brother, Patrick.
“Patrick approached me when I was in Philadelphia with the Flyers a couple of years back and told me about the You Can Play Project,” said the Toronto Maple Leafs forward. “He talked to me about its dedication to ensuring equality in hockey without regard to sexual orientation. It was an issue I knew of, but maybe not one I had thought about enough. Patrick asked me to be involved and it was an easy yes. Patrick has been phenomenal in terms of raising awareness.
“I was incredibly proud that the NHL was the first league to be involved in the initiative. It’s awesome seeing the support from all the teams across the league and all the fans. To have a big league like ours behind the message, it helps so much.”
Van Riemsdyk mentioned UAE hockey player Fatima Al Ali’s photo with Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Zetterberg as a perfect example for the way the initiative can bring people together.
“Three people, from all very different walks of life came together in our nation’s capital because they just love hockey,” said van Riemsdyk.
Despite the big strides the league has made, the work is nowhere close to being finished. Hartnell feels that the end goal is to make sure that there’s no need for You Can Play.
“The goal here is to raise awareness and be proactive so one day we won’t even have projects like this,” he said.