This isn’t your typical battle of Alberta.
Yes, there will be bodychecks, hipchecks and probably a lot of goals at West Edmonton Mall’s Ice Palace, but there will also be pride tape, camaraderie and even a drag queen singing O Canada.
On Saturday night, the Edmonton Rage and Calgary Pioneers will be fighting for a win on the ice, while fighting for inclusivity and acceptance off the ice. It’s the first battle of Alberta between the province’s first two LGBTQ hockey teams.
When founding the Rage in July 2019, Brett Stamm had no idea just how much interest there would be in an LGBTQ hockey team. He was just looking for a place where he, and others like him, could fit in.
“Our whole mission is to create that safe space for players on the ice and quite frankly, just as much off the ice,” Stamm said. “No one should have their guard up when they’re with us. It’s all about that inclusive space.”
The Edmonton Rage have 10 full-time players and numerous spares. And while they’re an LGBTQ hockey team, allies are always welcome on the team.
They play in the Capital City Rec Hockey League – choosing the league due to its in-depth policies in terms of respect in sport and inclusiveness. They’ve been met with nothing but support from opposing teams and players.
“Everyone’s been super accepting” Stamm said. “Even when they found out (we were an LGBTQ team) their response was super positive.”
From pride nights to their “hockey is for everyone” campaign, the NHL has focused on creating a welcoming environment for all players and fans. Still, there have been instances of casual homophobia both in locker rooms and on the ice.
In 2016, Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw was suspended one game and fined $5,000 for a homophobic slur.
Justin Connelly, a member of the Calgary Pioneers, says language is a big concern among some LGBTQ players.
“A lot of them stopped playing hockey partly because of that,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of progress that’s been made but there is still quite a ways to go.”
That progress can be seen from coast to coast. There are 12 teams and 180 players in Toronto’s Gay Hockey Association. There’s a national LGBTQ hockey tournament, Coupe Canada Cup, held in Toronto and Montreal. And in Alberta, the Pioneers and Rage and have been joined by a third team, the Calgary Villagers.
And while the goal on Saturday is to be the first team to hoist the battle of Alberta trophy, both teams agree that it will be a celebration of sport and equality.
“We’re more than just a hockey team,” said Connelly. “We’re part of a community and we’re trying to grow the message about inclusivity in sport and in hockey.”
The Edmonton Rage will also hold a free community skate at the Ice Palace on March 1 and April 5.