On Sunday, March 2, 2014, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, hosted the You Can Play Project’s You Can Play Day (II) at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT. A forecast for snow that (thankfully) never appeared may have kept some people home but the arena was still pretty full. Last year’s You Can Play Day was the first time the project had ever done a panel in coordination with a professional sports team.

For those not in the know, YCP is a movement/project based on the idea that if you can play, it doesn’t matter what your sex, orientation, race, creed etc. is, than you can play. What originally started off as a grassroots hockey movement over the past year has encompassed such sports as professional baseball, football, soccer teams and players as well as colleges, music and musicians and people who believe that this idea is something that everyone should believe in. All 30 NHL teams have at least one player who has appeared in their videos and even high schools, TSN Broadcasters and a mountain (!!?!) have joined and gone on video to announce that they really don’t care who or what you are as long as you can play.

The panel this year had Anthony Nicodemo, boys basketball coach from Yonkers, N.Y., Dan Woog, boys soccer coach from Westport, Conn., David Farber, former University of Pennsylvania hockey player and Avery Stone, a lesbian hockey player from Amherst College and the panel’s moderator was the always dapper Wade Davis, a former NFL cornerback who came out in an OutSports.com article in 2012.

Anthony Nicodemo & Dan Woog

Anthony Nicodemo & Dan Woog

Last year’s panel was more about hockey, hockey culture, the locker rooms (and what it’s like to be gay in one). This years panel, after a year that saw the NHL & NHLPA announce a partnership a few weeks after the first You Can Play Day in Bridgeport, was more about education and educators.

When Dan Woog came out to the kids he coached, he said that he knew that he needed to do it for the gay kids, but he didn’t realize until much later that he also needed to come out for the straight kids. The reason being that they needed to know that being gay didn’t change who he was, but, that instead that he was the same coach before and the same coach after (except now with a weight lifted off his shoulders), a lesson they might never learn about being gay anyplace else. Avery Stone said that “[the] secret [of being gay] holds you back on and off the ice.”

Can you imagine how much better some hockey players would be able to play if they weren’t still in their closet?

Speaking of hockey, the hosts the Bridgeport Sound Tigers lost to the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, with the final score of 2-1.

Kevin Poulin, who typically goes back and forth between Bridgeport and Long Island, was in goal for the Sound Tigers and Alan Quine scored. The goal scorers for the Comets were Matt Donovan and Nicklas Jensen, both of who were playing during  Monday night’s wacky Canucks v Islanders where the Islanders scored 7 goals in the 3rd period against Vancouver.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers had their seven-game winning streak snapped the night before against the Worcester Sharks (2-1) and after Jensen scored just 17 seconds in, the team was unable to catch up.

Scooter Vaughan, who has a great sports name, was involved in a few of the skirmishes that occurred during the game and was also a very fast skater and personally I can’t wait until he ends up on the Islanders and on the same line as the Isles’ Michael Grabner.

Wade Davis after he dropped the ceremonial puck to start the game.

Wade Davis after he dropped the ceremonial puck to start the game.

As a personal aside, I would like to thank the Sound Tigers, the American Hockey League and the Islanders for hosting the You Can Play Day again (and, of course, my hockey brother/personal driver/favorite Islanders fan Vinny for taking me).  I’m glad that we live in a world where it’s acceptable to have a panel discussion and a celebration of how it’s okay to be gay like these in an AHL-level Sunday afternoon hockey game and not have anyone question or fight it. Education is key and as Avery Stone said, every little ripple makes a wave and I hope to one day soon be writing up one of these from a National Hockey League game.

Born and raised around the swamps of Northern New Jersey, 6 minutes away from East Rutherford and 11 minutes away from Newark (all with no traffic, of course), she is a giant New Jersey Devils fan whose greatest pieces of hockey memorabilia include a Patrik Elias Team Czech #25 shirsey, a Theo Fleury Calgary Flames action figure and a signed picture of Kevin Weekes smiling for the camera. She learned a long time ago that every Devils player that isn't Patrik Elias who she loves will probably be traded away, sent to Russia or just never get a call from Uncle Lou during contract negotiations and she has learned, after drinking a lot of Kool-Aid, that that is okay sometimes because Uncle Lou will always bring them back for the last year or so of their hockey life. Speaking of, she is also been one of the few women in the Bobby Holik Appreciation Fan Club since 1996 or so.

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