DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog jumped at the opportunity to take part in the NHL's Break The Ice program and Hockey Is For Everyone month on Wednesday.
"It's a great initiative as far as inclusion goes," he said. "Sport has a magical way of bringing people together and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Landeskog, forward John Mitchell, mascot Bernie and the Ram Trucks Avalanche Ice Girls skated with 50 physically disabled athletes from the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) at Pepsi Center.
February is Hockey Is For Everyone month, reaffirming that the sport is one of inclusion on the ice, in locker rooms and in the stands, and that NHL communities celebrate hockey's diversity and unwavering commitment of respect for all.
"We've done different clinics with the Avalanche but I think this one has a deeper meaning, and that's what makes it more fun," Landeskog said. "This is something that I'm passionate about, making sure that people know that it doesn't matter what background you have. For me, you live by the words that you treat others the way you want to be treated.
"Sport in general is such a great way of getting everyone together. It doesn't matter what age or gender or sexual orientation or race or whatever, sport is fun. Anybody that wants to play should play, it's as simple as that. Introducing some kids to hockey, to come out and try it, it's a fun thing."
The Break The Ice program, presented by Crescent Point Energy, has been a staple of the Avalanche's community outreach initiative for more than 10 years. It provides a unique skating experience for children who may not have a skating background, giving them the opportunity to learn from NHL players.
Skating instruction was provided by the players and South Suburban Parks and Recreation Learn to Skate program members, with assistance from Crescent Point Energy staff and NSCD volunteers.
Each participant received a Break The Ice t-shirt, two tickets to an Avalanche game and the use of skates, helmets, gloves and elbow pads for the day. The children also received autographs and took part in a question-and-answer session.
"It's important that we keep building on the foundation that we have as far as giving back to the community and trying at the same time to bring more people into the sport, introducing people at a young age to the game of hockey," Landeskog said.
"I think once people get into it and try it, they realize it's awesome. It's a great way of getting to know people, a great way of being active and exercising. Once you start, you fall in love with it. It doesn't have to be organized hockey, just get out there and give it a try."