February 1, 2017 3:45 pm
Updated: February 1, 2017 9:25 pm

Edmonton Oilers to host You Can Play Night on Valentine’s Day

WATCH ABOVE: Andrew Ference weighs in on the importance of the Edmonton Oilers You Can Play Night and overall inclusion in sport.


Valentine’s Day will mark a new chapter in the history of the Edmonton Oilers as the franchise hosts its first You Can Play Night on Feb. 14 against the Arizona Coyotes. The initiative is part of the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone month – a chance to celebrate the game and its diversity.

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Teams across the league will be holding You Can Play nights in an effort to show their support for the LGBTQ community and show young players that hockey is a safe and welcoming environment.

In a news release, the Oilers said, “In the spirit of inclusion, it’s even more fitting that our You Can Play Night falls on Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and affection.”

“As leaders in the community, on Feb. 14 the Oilers will bring attention and awareness to Hockey Is For Everyone month during You Can Play Night to help ensure that hockey truly is for everyone,” Oilers Entertainment Group Vice-Chairman Kevin Lowe added.

Former Oilers Captain Andrew Ference says supporting and recognizing the LGBTQ community is long overdue.

“It’s about time we take a stand and talk about this and make this a comfortable situation for everybody.”

Growing up in Sherwood Park, Ference played hockey with guys who have since come out to him. He learned how they were forced to live a lie for virtually half their life, quitting the sport out of fear.

“I don’t know if I would have (shown support) at that age because I didn’t have any mentors I could look up to that were talking about this.”

READ MORE: Calgary’s first gay hockey team, the Pioneers, changing culture around Canada’s game 

That’s exactly what You Can Play Night is all about.

The Oilers have teamed up with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to equality, respect and safety for athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Essentially: if you can play, you can play.

Watch below: As part of a month-long NHL campaign called “Hockey is for Everyone,” the Edmonton Oilers will be hosting You Can Play Night on Valentine’s Day. Kent Morrison reports.

Evan Asmussen understands message first hand. He’s won a National Championship with the Alberta Golden Bears Men’s Curling Team and a World Junior Curling Championship.

Locker rooms can be a scary place for closeted gay athletes, which is why it’s important to know that there are supports in place.

“I know for us to perform our best, we need to be comfortable in our environments in which we’re performing.”

Every day in February, Hockey Is For Everyone activities will focus awareness on LGBTQ, ethnicity and gender equality, socio-economic status and those living with disabilities.

“Our clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey,” NHL Commissioner Gary 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.”

In a news release, the league explained You Can Play Nights will feature ceremonial puck drops, anthem singers, hometown heroes and Pride Tape during the pre-game warm-up.

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation will auction off those limited-edition autographed sticks at a later date.

For the first time, Pride Tape is available through the NHL’s online shop and at the game.

READ MORE: Oilers’ captain to make history at Edmonton Pride Parade 

For their part, the Oilers have been leading the way in their support for the LGBTQ community and its athletes.

In 2014, Andrew Ference became the first Oiler to represent the team at the Edmonton Pride Parade.

In 2016, the team used Pride Tape in its skills competition and most recently at the Heritage Classic. The rainbow coloured hockey tape was created in Edmonton by Calder Bateman in an effort to make hockey more inclusive. Since then, it’s been used by NHL teams at pride parades across North America and hockey leagues as far away as Australia.

READ MORE: Oilers to become first NHL team to use Pride Tape 

Ference admits it’s tough to truly understand the struggles gay athletes go through, but stresses they are more than welcome in NHL locker rooms.

“You have more support than you think,” he said.

“The world is a good place. There’s a lot of good people.”

The Oilers have named Matt Hendricks as their You Can Play ambassador.

With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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