Throughout the month of February, the Philadelphia Flyers and the local hockey community have celebrated the National Hockey League's "Hockey is for Everyone" (HIFE) initiative. Over the course of February, the Flyers spotlighted the growth and diversity of hockey-related programs throughout the Delaware Valley.
The events took place at various locales in the region. While some events on the surface seemed quite different in tone and scope, they were all aligned around a central theme that the sport of hockey benefits the quality of life in the community. The Flyers are committed to supporting resources that bring access to interested in participating in the sport.
Following is a look at some of the local Hockey is For Everyone highlights:
Flyers Alumni vs. Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay (Feb. 2)
On Feb. 2 at Neumann University's Community Hall, the Flyers Alumni Team took on the Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay power wheelchair hockey team in a floor hockey game. With the Flyers Alumni leading late in the game, the PowerPlay scored with just 15 seconds left to forge a 14-14 tie. The game was part of a continuing series of special events involving the Flyers, the Flyers Alumni Association and the Philadelphia PowerPlay.
"We had a good time. We've done various events with Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay, and I've seen firsthand that it is a very good organization and great group of people," said Brad Marsh, the president of the Flyers Alumni Association.
"They love to play the game, and love being a team. That's what the spirit of hockey is all about."
Last fall, the renamed Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay (former Philadelphia PowerPlay) became an official affiliate of the Flyers. The Flyers PowerPlay team competes as a member of the United States Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association. A non-profit organization, the Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay provides access to hockey for all people who use power wheelchairs as part of their daily lives. The program's emphasis is on teamwork, skill development and fun.
You Can Play Night (Feb. 8)
When the Flyers took on the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 8, it was "You Can Play Night" at the Wells Fargo Center. Flyers captain Claude Giroux serves as the team's You Can Play ambassador.
Giroux said that the program's message of ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all who participate in hockey, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and fans is an important that reflects the spirit of the game.
"Where I'm from [Hearst, Ontario], it's a small town," Giroux said. "Everybody's accepted in hockey. It's a great sport. It just brings everybody together."
As part of You Can Play Night, Giroux hosted several young fans from the Philadelphia non-profit ProjectHOME in his personal suite, and then held a meet-and-greet session with the group after the game.
In addition to the participation of Giroux and other Flyers players, "You Can Play Night" spotlighted community leaders who have made a positive impact on the quality of life and safety for the LGBTQ communities in the Delaware Valley.
The Flyers honored Nora Cothren as the evening's Philadelphia Insurance Community Teammate. Cothren is the co-chair of the Go Athletes K-12 Committee, an outreach, education, and support organization for LQBTQ high school and college student-athletes. Cothren also works as a coach and academic assistant for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. She graduated from Smith College in 2012, where she played all four years of varsity hockey, serving as team captain for a season and twice named an ACHA 2nd Team All American.
Additionally, Deja Alvarez, a founding member and the first director of the non-profit Home for Hope shelter - the first in Pennsylvania to serve the LGBTQ homeless community - was honored as the night's Walmart Community Playmaker honoree. A member of the Mayor's Commission of LGBT Affairs, Alvarez was honored in 2016 as Person of the Year by the Philadelphia Gay News.
Throughout the nightlong game presentation at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers displayed a series of educational facts and figures about the "You Can Play" project and "Hockey is for Everyone," amplified by rainbow colors, including a Pride-themed Flyers logo.
Willie O'Ree Skills Weekend (Feb. 16-18)
The Flyers and the Ed Snider Youth Foundation hosted and brought to Philadelphia more than 100 inner-city student-athletes, coaches and directors from the 17 National Hockey League affiliated Hockey is for Everyone programs for the annual Willie O'Ree Skills Weekend. From Feb. 16 through Feb. 18, events with O'Ree were held at the National Liberty Museum, the National Constitution Center, the University of Pennsylvania's Class of '23 Arena, and the Scanlon Ice Rink.
O'Ree, the "Jackie Robinson of hockey" who not only broke the NHL's color barrier 60 years ago as a member of the Boston Bruins but dealt successfully with blindness in one eye caused by an on-ice accident, shared with participants his on-ice and off-ice experiences as a trailblazer in hockey. His message has always been one of emphasizing the importance of commitment, self-respect, and the pursuit of education in conjunction with athletics.
"Once we get the kids on the ice, I've never had anyone say, 'This isn't for me, I'm not coming back.' If they can't skate, we [teach] them. That's a first step to learning... You have to set goals, because goal-setting is vital to success," O'Ree said.
"You can do anything you set your mind to do, but you have to feel strongly within your heart and within your mind. If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're right. Hockey is a path of self-discovery. Everyone is three different people: the person who you think you are, the person who others think you are, and the person who you really are. You have to find that person you really are, set goals that are meaningful to you and then be committed to meeting those goals no matter what it takes. That's how you succeed."
Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds is the among the many who've been inspired by O'Ree. Simmonds, who proudly serves as a member of the Snider Hockey board of directors, also served as an honorary co-chair of the 2018 Willie O'Ree Skills Weekend.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without Willie O'Ree's persistence and courage. Willie is not only a hero to me in hockey, but a hero in life," Simmonds said.
Flyers Youth Special Hockey Clinic (Feb. 19)
The Flyers hosted a special event for members of the Flyers Youth Special Hockey program at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, one day ahead of the Flyers' rematch with the Montreal Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center. Flyers assistant Ian Laperriere and various fellow Alumni including Bob "the Hound" Kelly, Marsh and Doug Crossman joined the kids to conduct a hockey clinic and scrimmage.
Now in its third season of play, the non-profit Flyers Youth Special Hockey program provides an opportunity for individuals age five and up with developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, Autism, and other learning delays, to learn and participate in ice hockey. The program does not require previous skating or hockey experience for participation. In addition to teaching hockey skills within a low-cost, non-competitive and non-contact sporting environment, the program emphasizes building self-confidence, teamwork and responsibility.
Hockey is for Everyone Night (Feb. 20)
The Flyers' Feb. 20 game against Montreal at the Wells Fargo Center coincided with Hockey is for Everyone Night. In conjunction with the special night, members of the Flyers Youth Special Hockey Program were at the game as guests of the Flyers. Additionally, program manager Erica Hunter was recognized by the Flyers as the night's Walmart Community Player. She received an award and a Walmart gift card as a gesture of thanks for her outstanding work.
Hunter is herself the mother of a special needs child who participates in the Flyers Youth Special Hockey program. She spearheads all program operations, ranging from the scheduling of regular season games, to the recruitment of new players and organizing fundraising events for the team and travel arrangements for tournaments.
Hockey for Her (Feb. 27)
On Feb. 27, approximately 400 fans came out for the first Hockey for Her night at the Wells Fargo Center; a behind-the-scenes event created especially for women by the female executives in the Flyers front office. Attendees had the opportunity to test their skills on the ice and floor of Wells Fargo Center and exclusive access to meet and talk extensively with members of the organization and within the Flyers family. The behind-the scenes features included:
- A coaching "Chalk Talk" session with Laperriere.
- A locker room tour with Flyers equipment managers Derek Settlemyre and Harry Bricker.
- A Flyers Alumni Q& A panel featuring Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Riley Cote.
- A "Women in Sports" discussion panel featuring Flyers front office executives Cindy Stutman, Senior VP, Business Operations; Linda Mantai, VP, Flyers Charities; Sarah Schwab, Marketing Director; and Christine Mina, Digital Media Manager.
- A sports medicine and nutrition discussion led by Flyers director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin.
- A Flyers Wives ice-side chat featuring, among others, Doreen Holmgren, Erinn Hakstol and Diane Hextall.