We are over a month into the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, and the competition is getting heated. Unfortunately, none of California’s hockey teams remain in the running, with the LA Kings having faced off against the Edmonton Oilers and exiting in the first round.
As sad as that news is, it’s not the end of the story for California’s current hockey culture. Over two decades ago, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Diversity Task Force created the “Hockey is for Everyone™” campaign, since then, it has blossomed into a yearlong initiative that “…uses the game of hockey – and the League’s global influence – to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities.” Their website continues on to state that “[They] support any teammate, coach or fan who brings heart, energy and passion to the rink. [They] believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”
Now, California is a large state, and as a result, we are lucky to have three outstanding hockey teams: The Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks, and the San Jose Sharks. The Kings, unfortunately, only briefly mentions the league wide initiative on their site and links to the league’s declaration of principles page, but our other two teams, the Ducks and the Sharks, have been making impressive strides to manifest this initiative into an actionable path toward ensuring that this outstanding sport is inclusive to everyone.
The Ducks have an awesome “let’s get everyone playing” approach, providing a broad range of programs that include In-school Initiatives and Girls Hockey Programs, but where they really shine are the disability specific programs outlined on their Hockey is for Everyone homepage.
- Top Flight Programs include figure skating, ice and street hockey.
- Blind and Visually Impaired Hockey requires only minor modifications to the rules and players are ready to go.
- Sled Hockey is very similar to stand-up hockey, except that you get to utilize extremely cool AT to play. Players sit in a sled that sits on two skate blades, use two sticks equipped with metal picks that are used to advance the player forward, and goalies have picks sewn into their glove to facilitate movement.
- Warrior Hockey is designed to support injured and disabled veterans and current service members and looks to be having a promising launch from development.
- And finally, Standing/Amputee Hockey and Deaf/Hard of Hearing appear to be in the development phases, with the Ducks asking for people who wish to get involved to fill out their inquiry form.
Ducks make it clear that hockey is a flexible sport that, with minor modifications, anyone can enjoy, regardless of accommodation needs.
The Sharks are taking a wholistic approach, incorporating the diversity of hockey and Sharks fans into the very fiber of their team. You can see this initiative everywhere, including:
- Shark themed wallpapers and Zoom Backgrounds celebrating the diversity of their community.
- Women of Teal nights celebrating the female employees who facilitate and share in the success of the team.
- Black History Month and Juneteenth celebrations, with special games and clothing designs by account manager and artist, Mohamed Fofana. All sales of the Juneteenth shirt matched by the Sharks and donated to the African American Community Service Agency in San Jose.
- Partnering in an Anti-bullying assembly, visiting elementary schools in San Jose.
- One Step Sharks are an American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) hockey team comprised of disabled community members who receive the Sharks Foundation Grant.
- During the 2020 NHL Draft, their Director of Scouting, Doug Wilson Jr. provided ASL Interpretation to announce Ozzy Wiesblatt’s first round draft pick, in honor of Ozzy’s mother Kim, who is deaf. Ozzy even has a video on the Shark’s website teaching hockey terms in ASL!
- Providing ASL Interpretation of the National Anthem and the Canadian National Anthem on their video board at the start of each game.
- And finally, the Sharks provide sensory kits at no charge to fans who could benefit from them.
Although they do host a Hockey is for Everyone night, Sharks recognize that disabled hockey fans don’t just show up for one night, people with disabilities are members of the hockey community and deserve consideration and accommodations so they can fully participate.
It is sad not seeing our local teams fighting it out in the final series when they are working so hard to celebrate the intersectionality of their community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the excitement of the battle for the Stanley Cup. The National Hockey League’s dedication to ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to experience the joy of hockey is inspiring and worth our recognition. We already know that the Avs are in the final series, but the Bolts and the Rangers seem to be determined to battle it out to the very last game in their conference finals series. We could know as early as this weekend or as late as next Tuesday, but either way it goes, it will be a well-earned shot at the Cup. Good luck, Guys, and we’ll be watching.