This was an interesting and important weekend of puck across the Long Island sound for several reasons. First, the Islanders showed life and roared back to take down the Habs in Montreal, with Thomas Hickey’s overtime dagger (his first career tally) lighting the lamp and sending a sad stream of fans from the bell center with fire in their bellies that could only be squelched by donairs or poutine. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the SICK feed by Tavares from his belly that left Habs fans reaching for the tums. That’s about all the gut puns I can stomach.
On to Friday. I was going around and through the motions at work, lamenting the 24 hours separating me from hockey when I became aware of the possibility of PLAYING Hockey on Bridgeport’s ice, via fellow Puckbuddy @Trot71 and the charming cup of chowder chairlady, @Sarah_Connors. I started getting the gear ready and notifying liney @KathyGC who bounced up like the energizer bunny upon learning of ice time. Time to get the band together. Then the Islanders, as they are want to do, absolutely detonated my day with 5 simple words. “Rick DiPietro placed on waivers.” Oh. Give me a moment, please. HA.
Oh, thank you GM Garth. Thank you Dog. What a shot of juice for the franchise. The 15 year albatross openly or subtly lambasted by everyone from John Tavares to Travis Hamonic to Butch Goring to Jack Capuano to Arthur Staple to Brendan Witt… IS GONE. We can have a real backup goalie now. That’s so nice. He can join Tim Thomas and Alexei Yashin in the pile of caphits that this team doesn’t actually put on the ice. This is a momentous thing because this is the first move the Islanders have made with improving the team as the foremost factor in like 352662 years.
After gloating, yelling, chest beating and returning to the upright position, it was time to get ready for Saturday. I left early, made some gear modifications and snagged @BatmaneatsBabie on the way (who did a fantastic write-up of Saturday HERE. The ride to the Bridge was smooth. Got there roughly a half hour before the You Can Play panel and eventually found our way into the arena.
We got good seats, and quickly found ourselves joined by Colin (@SkinnyPPPhish) of Pension Plan Puppets, yet another Puckbuddy @HockeyGuyNYC, and of course The PuckBuddys themselves, Doug and Craig. There were hardly any seats left for the panel when the aforementioned Kathy and Sarah got their fashionably late tucheses in gear. When the panel got rolling, there were no seats left. SUPER NO VACANCY as missing wingman John Carroll from Jewels from the Crown might note ( The mighty @KingHawkRanger was felled by the flu! THE FLU?). Quite the hockey blog roll was present.
For those of you that are unaware, Craig’s got this pet line he drops. And he’s good at PR, so I listen to him, occasionally, when I don’t feel like breaking his balls (which is to be honest, my M.O.). That line is simply a response to anything that the hockey community does that’s progressive for LGBT people or when another sport is oppressive: “Hockey leads the way.” It’s a nice catch-all to show how far out in front hockey is of it’s other sports peers on the march to inclusion. This was underscored as NFL teams asked “Are you Gay?” to prospects while an AHL Club hosted a You Can Play night. The fact is, this weekend, if hockey leads the way, this weekend, one team in particular led the charge.
“Hockey leads the way” begat “The Islanders light the path”. My team does a lot of really, really dumb things. The Isles are often demonstratively arrogant, frugal, and often outright infuriating. But one of the plusses of having an owner whose license plate reads IDGAF is he occasionally gives the bright lights in his organization enough room to operate.
One of those bright lights is Rob Nyman. He had a vision. He went out of his way to bring in LGBT savvy hockey people to bring this vision to life. By savvy hockey gays, I of course mean me. I then reached out to the old wise men and Kathy (who if I referred to her as old would crosscheck me). Craig brought Patrick Burke on board. The LGBT inclusive night morphed into a ‘You Can Play’ night. The first ever You Can Play night, thank you very much. For all the very public ridicule the Islanders take often, it’s time to give their farm club their due, and give the parent club kudos for being willing to be the first organization to do this. What exactly did this entail? 90 minutes before puck drop, Patrick Burke sat a podium flanked by David Farber and Nick Kleidon (who documented his illuminating experience of coming out to himself, his friends, team and school here.
David and Nick explained the roads they traveled to a captivated house. It was something to behold. Burkie was fired up, and he told of his late brother’s journey, which served as the impetus for the You Can Play project. Burkie told us that Brendan came out first to his sisters, then mom, then he and his dad – then the world (as told by John Buccigross here). Brendan could have been confident in passing the baton, using his status as hockey royalty to start the ball rolling there, and left it to someone else, already having done more than most would dare ask in taking such a public stance in such a macho world. But he wasn’t content, and moved forward to do more. Sadly, the heights he would go to were never realized as he perished in an automobile accident.
Rather than let his mission end with him, the Burkes came together in their grief, and took on their fallen kin’s mission as their own. The Patriarch, Brian Burke, the much ballyhooed former general manager of the Leafs and Team USA, often takes a beating in the hockey press. One thing Burke can’t be accused of is shrinking from a fight. In this case, he rolled up his sleeves, unfastened his tie, and went to work. Patrick joined him and became the face of a fledgling initiative now known as the You Can Play project. The project would be apolitical. It would be singular in focus: The goal was to get us to a point where a gay kid on a team was just a kid on a team, like everyone else. It would be a long road, after all, Brendan himself had left hockey because of the rampant homophobia often encountered in athletic locker rooms.
“If my brother, (coming from our family) couldn’t feel safe as a gay male in a hockey locker room, how could anyone else?” remarked Burke. And it’s a valid point. Brendan was as plugged in as could be, and still he felt cut off in the macho nonsense that is a locker room where anything different is to be derided. Patrick pointed out that You Can Play strives to do nothing more than make the locker room and field (or rink) accessible and welcoming to LGBT athletes. This is done by removing 5 hurtful words from the lexicon of the locker room. I’m sure you can guess them.
The You Can Play initiative flowed out of that sentiment. Burkie explained to the room GMs responded vigor, with players following their lead. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen of YOUR New York Islanders were among the earliest to support YCP. Every team has shot or is scheduled to shoot a YCP PSA. Half the AHL clubs have with the rest in the hopper as they say. Nonetheless, it was the Sound Tigers who were the first to offer a forum for these issues and an entire night dedicated to You Can Play and it’s efforts.
I asked Burke about the Torii Hunter incident and how he addresses relgious aspects with athletes. Burke said that players need to abide by the locker room’s rules, and that he can go scripture verse for scripture verse with anyone, and that NOTHING in You Can Play’s platform contradicts anything in the bible.
For perspective, perhaps the most telling line of the night was when Burke discussed being labeled an ‘ally’. “We have a word for someone who treats gay people with respect. How fucked up is that? I thought that’s just being a human being.” Indeed, You Can Play has shown us how far we’ve come and how far we can still strive to go.
Afterward, the Tigers dropped a 3-2 decision to Manchester, in a pretty good tilt. Meanwhile, the parent club, behind the strength of Tavares, Grabner, and the Nabby Man crushed the Sabres. And the Rangers kept losing, which is nice.
After the Tigers and Monarchs were done, a bunch of us took the ice. My first shift, I wanted to test my groin which had been killing me, and I blew a tire and led to a rush which ended up in our net. So yeah, it improved from there. I was very close to shutting it down in the third, but I got yelled at by the liney. She’s good for stuff like that. Fun time.
Fittingly, Burkie potted the last goal on the rush.
The Isles have since lost two games they could’ve won, as young teams like to do, but sit 2 points out of a playoff spot. The Rangers continue to suck, so there’s that.
The takeaway from this weekend for me is that my team said hello to a partnership fostering inclusion and tolerance, leading the charge on something very important to our constituency. I’m very proud to have been a part of the planning for this, and I speak for the whole Puckbuddys team when I say that. When we look back at the great things we’ve done as part of this community, I have no doubt this will be near the top of the list.
As an added bonus, the Isles jettisoned an albatross in net and I never need to hear about that contract again. So there’s that too…. Until next time, kids.
PS: You’re all expected at You Can Play Nights next year. No exceptions.