Colorado Avalanche: NHL’s Conflicting Application of Hockey is for Everyone

ST CATHARINES, ON - OCTOBER 13: Players have rainbow tape on their sticks during warmup as the Niagara IceDogs host the Sarnia Sting in a Pride Night OHL game at the Meridian Centre on October 13, 2016 in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
ST CATHARINES, ON - OCTOBER 13: Players have rainbow tape on their sticks during warmup as the Niagara IceDogs host the Sarnia Sting in a Pride Night OHL game at the Meridian Centre on October 13, 2016 in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Teams like the Colorado Avalanche promote the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, but the NHL is conflicting in its application of the message.

The Colorado Avalanche promote that Hockey is for Everyone, same as every team in the NHL. This is an initiative that began 20 years ago in support of the NHL’s “longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion in hockey.”

The stated purpose of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative is to “provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

In support of this initiative, the NHL ran a whole month’s worth of activities last year to focus awareness on the above-mentioned areas. Every team had days on the calendar during which they would hold events in honor of the initiative. For example, the Avalanche’s days were February 3, 4, 6, 8, 19, 20 and 24.

Teams did things like hold special skates for athletes with disabilities, hold panels to discuss gender diversity, wrap their sticks in rainbow tape, and subsidize tickets to hockey games for disadvantaged youth.

I can’t find any current information on what the NHL is doing this year for Hockey is for Everyone initiative, but the events are supposed to take place in February, the designated diversity month.

Colorado Avalanche and Inclusion

The Hockey is for Everyone campaign partnered last year with the You Can Play Project, a non-profit organization that supports the LGBTQ community across sports. The NHL Players’ Association also partnered with the initiative last year.

Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog serves as the team’s spokesperson. This message is supposed to mean anyone who is capable of playing is welcome to play regardless of their gender, ability, race, or sexual orientation.

Here’s the promotional video with Landeskog:

What’s more, Landeskog is heavily involved as an ambassador in another initiative called Friends. It’s a non-profit organization that educates and supports schools and youth sports clubs to prevent bullying. In his aegis as the Colorado Avalanche captain, Landeskog has become an ambassador for the group and has held several events during Avs games to support the initiative.

I don’t follow what other teams do for community service very much, but I do notice what the Colorado Avalanche do. Almost on a weekly basis players get on the ice with children and sometimes adults. Many times the children are facing medical crises, sometimes the adults or children are differently abled, but sometimes the kids are just trying out hockey for the first time. (The promotions don’t say it, but I’m guessing they come from economically challenged families or even institutions.)

I truly believe the Colorado Avalanche as a team and many if not most (if not all) of the players truly believe hockey is for everyone.

I’m going to go one step further with the slogan. Hockey playing isn’t the only thing that’s for everyone — hockey fandom is, too. This message should relate to anyone who enjoys watching the sport regardless of their gender, ability, race, or sexual orientation. And I’d say that, except for welcoming fans with differing abilities, the NHL falls flat on its face in this regard.

Politics and Hockey

colorado avalanche
DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 20: Kid Rock performs at Little Caesars Arena on September 20, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images) /

“Sports are and always have been very political. Visiting the White House is just as much of a political statement as boycotting it. Standing for the anthem is a political statement. Inviting a member of the military to every game is political.” ~Beata Elliot

We all know that hockey players are deliberately bland when they speak to the media. It’s been noted that hockey players won’t even say something bad about the weather to the media. Indeed, when the San Jose Sharks players did just that, they were taken to task.

There was some hullaballoo when the Pittsburgh Penguins went to the White House, currently occupied by the Trump administration, as the Stanley Cup champions. The league and the players, most of whom are Canadian or otherwise non-(US)American, tried to play it off as nothing more than tradition, not a political event.

The hullaballoo was related to criticism over athletes taking a knee in protest during the National Anthem. The athletes in question have primarily been African-American football players. As the NHL season started, there were questions about whether the league’s few African American players would make a similar protest — which is where the weather comment originated.

Recently I read this excellent blog post by Beata Elliot over at Silver Seven, a fan blog for the Ottawa Senators over at SB Nation. (There’s no Duchene connection in this one — just coincidence it happened to be the Sens.) In the post, You Can’t Keep Politics Out of Sports, So Stop Trying, Beata details why we can’t keep politics out of sports. Specifically, we can’t — and shouldn’t — keep protests out of sports.

I don’t want to attempt to re-work the excellent rhetoric Beata already made. Instead, I want to elaborate on one point she made that affects me directly — certain hockey fans can’t keep the politics (protesting) out of sports because the sport lets us know at every turn that hockey isn’t for everyone — specifically, us.

This is a topic I’ve explored obliquely in the past:

To be clear, I approached both posts with deliberate obfuscation, almost like I’d be taken to task like the Sharks players were for bringing a non-hockey issue to hockey.

So I’m going to say it bluntly now: I have experienced sexism as a hockey fan.

Sexism in the NHL

colorado avalanche
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 15: Members of the Colorado Avalanche ice girls shovel the ice during a break in the action against the Los Angeles Kings at the Pepsi Center on November 15, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Kings 4-1. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

I have a Twitter friend who loves all four Colorado sports. He’s mostly a Broncos fan, but he loves the Colorado Avalanche. That’s why he’s a Twitter friend.

However, almost every single time he’s chirping the opponent team, he uses some aspect of womanhood as an insult. I’m not going to out the guy by showcasing his tweet, but one example is calling Tom Brady a “classy chick” for shouting “Fuck out of the way” to a cameraman. You might claim it was a typo except in the same tweet he calls Brady a “diva” with “panties in a bunch.”

This is a cool guy who says a lot of cool things. Sometimes even woke things. Yet in his world, female = sports bad. And if you look through the thread of such tweets, there are always several male fans agreeing with him.

This is far, far from an isolated incident. Rather, this is the norm in sports. (I’m going to focus on the NHL.) For example, MSG’s (the TV Network that covers the Rangers) announcer, Ron Duguay, recently remarked on officiating in a Rangers game with the following comment:

"“I think these guys would have been better off doing women’s hockey today, because the way they did the officiating, they were kind of soft.”"

Here’s where we come back to the Ice Girls. I’ve met the Ice Girls. Most of them are very nice. One looked at my Patrick Roy tattoo and asked if it was Semyon Varlamov, which was lame, but she was still nice enough. Another Ice Girl rigged it so I’d win a signed Gabriel Landeskog jersey. I’ve nothing against the Ice Girls as people.

The Ice Girls as an institution? Why on earth do we have scantily clad women cleaning up after the dirty, dirty boys during games?

Let’s take it one step further. Why is silver medalist Olympian and six-time gold medalist World Championship hockey player Hilary Knight demonstrating the skills competition events at the NHL All Star Game instead of participating in them? Why wasn’t she drafted?

I can understand why American football players pretty much have to be men — size and upper-body strength are key components of the game. However, the NHL is getting smaller and speedier — Hilary Knight is the same size as Alexander Kerfoot and Samuel Girard. In hockey, too much upper body strength is almost a liability as it can affect your stamina. Hockey players get their explosive strength from their lower bodies — where women have always been strongest.

Why is it, then, that in the NHL the best women can aspire to is to demonstrate the events the male athletes will participate in? And they’re far more likely to be ice maids.

Sexism in Hockey Fandom

colorado avalanche
DENVER, CO – OCTOBER 15:Fans of the Colorado Avalanche cheer against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on October 15, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

If you read through the impressively long comments section in Beata’s article, you’ll find this:

The remark I’m specifically referring to is this:

"“There are always going to be assholes everywhere, especially in sports culture, because of the aforementioned hyper-masculinity. It’s been the target audience for decades upon decades…Not everything is for everyone — that’s just a fact of life.”"

We don’t like to talk about it too much, but the target audience for the NHL has long been represented by what most NHLers are — white males. I can’t argue against the fact that white males are the demographic the NHL has long aimed to attract because it’s self-evident.

However, the NHL is trying to get “woke,” if only for monetary reasons. In the grand scheme of audiences, white males represent a minority. Half the world is female. Even many males are not white (Captain Obvious). And let’s not even get started on how people self-identify or what their sexual preference is because that’s a whole separate topic for its own post.

More from Mile High Sticking

The NHL is starting to realize that women and non-whites actually enjoy watching players skate around at full speed, slam into each other, move the puck around… score. And we’re willing to spend money not just to watch the sport but to represent our chosen team with fan gear (because that’s where the real profit is — have a jersey made for under $1 and sell it for $200).

If you’re part of that target demographic, you might have a hard time imagining why it’s such a big deal. You want to like the sport? Like the sport. Stop focusing on the little things.

Let me try to show you how it feels. Imagine you’re Nathan MacKinnon only not a Colorado Avalanche star — you’re a seriously white dude who likes a seriously black thing, rap. You love 2 Chainz. You’ve bought all his albums on i-Tunes and have shirts, hats, etc. for 2 Chainz. You even dance like 2 Chainz. What’s more, 2 Chainz has said 2 Chainz is for everyone, and you believe him even though he self-presents as very much in the black culture.

You have 2 Chainz Twitter friends, and you get into long but delightful arguments about the meanings of 2 Chainz lyrics. You go to clubs that feature his music and bust out your rap dance moves. And his concerts! 2 Chainz is such a superb performer you think his concerts are worth every penny of the expensive ticket price.

As you participate in social media about 2 Chainz, you start to notice your opinions don’t get taken seriously — not as seriously as, say, an African American’s. When you go to the clubs, you look around and notice you’re very different from the majority of the other fans — ie., a different color. But, hey, your money is green, so what if your skin is white?

And you drop all that dough on concert tickets. Imagine hearing this:


“Cracker can’t dance.”

“Little white boy, don’t talk to me about 2 Chainz lyrics. You know nothing.”

*snort “You lost, whitey? You only here for the beer?”

Sure, you could try to ignore it, and maybe even be largely successful. You could stop putting yourself through that torture by staying off the Twitter groups and away from the clubs and concerts. But… 2 CHAINZ! You love 2 Chainz, and you want to believe him when his says, “2 Chainz is for everyone” because you want his music to be for you — regardless of the fact you’re not the same as him on the outside.

That’s kind of what being a female hockey fan is like. We get called puck bunnies or have our opinions dismissed or get it shoved in our faces that women can clean up after the real athletes — the men.

Sure, technically I could just admit hockey isn’t for everyone — not for me, anyway — except I can’t. I tried not being a Colorado Avalanche fan after my Patrick Roy meltdown, and it didn’t take. I’m an Avs fan. I can’t help it. And I don’t really want to.

Hockey is for Everyone

Beata’s commenter has a point — not everything is for everyone. Indeed, Kid Rock isn’t for everyone. He doesn’t want to be. He’s taken great pains to align himself with the conservative right as represented by racism, nationalism, and sexism. That’s fact. And this is the man the NHL chose as their prime entertainment for the pet project, the All Star Game.

At the same time, the NHL is stating that hockey is for everyone. They’ve made a whole initiative about that. There are events, panels, and even gear to showcase that Hockey is for Everyone.

That’s why hiring a sexist, racist, self-proclaimed homophobic singer to perform at the All Star Game is stupid. That’s why allowing presenters such as Ron Duguay to make comments that equate female with sports bad is stupid.

What I’d like to see is for the league to put its money where its mouth is to attract money out of our hands.

And as a fan, that’s why I try to elbow my way into the circle. I like hockey. I want to spend my money on hockey tickets. I want to spend my money on fan gear because, no, you really can’t have too many Colorado Avalanche shirts, and don’t even get me started on coffee and beer mugs.

And I’m going to yap my lips (or flash my fingertips on the keyboard) to call out people who make statements that are derogatory to race/gender/ability/sexual orientation.

Hockey is for Everyone. My Colorado Avalanche and the NHL says so. I’m just doing my best to keep them honest.