Six-year-old Gabriel Tardiff’s summer was very routine-oriented: get up, eat, and learn the basics of hockey. He and his neighbor picked up a couple of sticks, a hockey ball, a net, and a pair of rollerblades and spent countless hours in the street practicing their skills.

From morning to evening, the banging of sticks echoed throughout the Tardiff neighborhood.

Like most passionate hockey players, getting them away from the game is impossible. A vacant net and stick are enough to keep them occupied for hours -- even after dark.

“They would actually prop up lights on the trees,” Gabriel’s father, Brian said. “They were hanging like exterior lights just so they could continue playing on the street [after dark]. It was mind boggling to me, because we could not break them away from going out there and playing for hours on end. It was incredible.”

The make-shift light fixtures proved beneficial as Gabriel, who is currently 13 years old and in his sixth season playing youth hockey, was awarded as an assistant captain for his local Hampton Road Warriors bantam team.


Brian, who grew up in Cincinnati and moved to Northern Virginia, was immediately hooked as a Capitals fan. His wife, Patty who has South American roots, had never watched hockey before, but quickly got invested to the new sport.

“Hockey is new to her whole side of the family,” said Brian. “Her mom comes from Peru, so she is like in awe of watching [hockey]. She's learning the sport as she watches Gabriel play. They don't have that in South America so being able to break ground in that particular way is something that my wife is super proud of. The fact that she can share that with her family, and the Hispanic side, and just bring them something that they've never seen and don't ever get exposed to back in their home countries.”

Gabriel understands his position as a hockey player of color playing in a predominantly white sport and has never taken anything for granted.

As the natural born leader that he is, he doesn’t want to worry about himself; rather inspire future players to continue diversifying the sport.

“I don't see a lot of kids with brown skin like me playing hockey and I would love to see more people like me out there on the ice,” said Gabriel. “I think it goes back to there not being many rinks everywhere, it's an expensive sport, and when you don't see any role models who look like you in the NHL, it can be hard to get excited about a sport. I would love to help change that for another kid and be a role model in the league.”

Brian and Patty both saw leadership qualities in Gabriel from a young age and credit him as an “old soul.” As a 13-year-old, it’s rare to find an individual as outspoken, articulate, and as confident as Gabriel is.

His maturity is constantly on display at home and on the ice.

“He seems to think and act differently in terms of other kids his age,” said Brian. “Patty and I would look at each other sometimes and be like, ‘did he just say that’ like that was so unexpected from a 10-year-old or 12-year-old and he continues to do it.”

In school Gabriel was taught to be a leader rather than a follower. Leading by example, especially on the ice is something he takes pride in.

“I’ve taken a lot of roles and other things in school, or just like on the team in general,” said Gabriel. “[In hockey,] I'll leave warmups and get everybody excited and hyped up and pick them up when they're down. I just try my very best to be out there and help everybody when they need it.”

He was in attendance of the Washington Capitals’ Rising Stars Academy back in September that provided elite skill development and mentorship to youth hockey players of color.

Gabriel went into the Academy not knowing a single player or coach but left with countless memories and lessons he’d remember forever.

“Going to a camp like Rising Stars, helped push me to open up and meet others,” he said. “Sit and listen patiently to presentations to take back to my team the things I learned and share them with the coaches and players.”


The lead instructor of the Rising Stars Academy, Duante Abercrombie, led each attendee through sessions on conflict resolution, hockey culture, and race. The sessions also featured Players Against Hate curriculum that worked to increase awareness and eliminate racism and name-calling by youth athletes, their teams and coaches, their families, and spectators.

Gabriel, who noted is one of only a handful of players of color in his league, reiterates that hockey is for everyone and that with the right mindset and mentality, one can overcome any challenge that presents itself.

Brian recalls two years ago an incident that happened in Gabriel’s league regarding discriminatory name-calling to another player of color.

It was at that moment that Brian and his wife started to have some concerns about the potential of Gabriel facing any future hatred or negativity while playing the sport he loves.

The Rising Stars Academy came at the perfect time to not only educate Gabriel but Brian and Patty as well. They both wanted to assure themselves that Gabriel was in a protective and safe environment.

“I remember afterwards telling the coaches he plays for now that this is something that we need to bring back here,” said Brian. “It had been him playing three or four years before we finally had heard and seen something happen on the racial slur front. So, we weren't scared - but we kind of became worried about it after that incident, and we've become more proactive now in terms of ‘how can we make a difference? How can we just change the mindset a little bit’ so that there aren't those kinds of problems going on?”

Abercrombie’s teachings were directed to help each player feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. Hate and negativity may always be around, but it’s about how the player combats these challenges and rises above as a person and player.

Gabriel’s eyes opened this summer when his travel team faced off against a team called HPOC (Hockey Players Of Color).

For so long, he began to believe the notion that hockey was a white sport, and he was in the minority. Now, he’s pushing for a new normal.

“It was really nice to see a team over the summer put something together for hockey players of color,” said Gabriel. “That's when I really started thinking about the fact that there are not that many kids [of color]. So, I was just kind of amazed to see that. The fact that they put kids together on a team just for one tournament and see how well they played together and everything.”

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Washington Capitals and Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation are celebrating and support the contributions of the Hispanic and Latino community from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

Highlighting local hockey players of color like Gabriel, who’s passion originated from rollerblading in the neighborhood to being awarded as an assistant captain, proves that hockey is for everyone, and everyone’s journey is different no matter what color or race you are.

For Gabriel, he was born to lead no matter the challenge.

“Those hard times are when you grow as a person and you see real leaders emerge on your team,” he said. “You have to decide, ‘do I want to follow the complainers, or do I want to motivate my teammates to keep fighting for that win?’ I choose to lead and motivate.”