ARLINGTON, Va.-- In 2016, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and his wife, Brandi, planned to attend the Capital Pride Alliance's Capital Pride Parade as spectators to show their support for the LBGTQ community.
So, when the Capitals asked Holtby if he'd like the represent the team by marching in the parade, it was an easy decision. They had so much fun that year, they went back and did it again in 2017.
One thing that stood out to Holtby in both years was how appreciative others in the parade were to have him marching with them.
"Much more than I was expecting," Holtby said. "The first year I just thought it was going to be fun. It was something we support, but the parade is just a fun time. It's basically just celebrating people enjoying themselves, people being free. That's the part I like most about it. But it surprised me how much it means to other people just having straight allies out there, straight allies in sports."
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That's why Holby is proud to serve as the Capitals team ambassador for Hockey Is For Everyone month for the second consecutive season.
The 28-year-old Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native believes strongly in the work done by the You Can Play Project and others to spread the message of inclusion in sports.
"The issue of human rights and being a Hockey Is For Everyone ambassador, it's bigger than just LGBTQ, but it's a big part of it," Holtby said. "It's something we've really liked supporting in the past, just to get awareness out there and make everyone feel more comfortable. But I think the You Can Play Project is for anything."
The You Can Play Project's message applies outside the sports world, but as a professional athlete Holtby appreciates that he has a platform to set an example for others, and believes he has a responsibility to do so.
"Sports is the area that we can do the most good with as hockey players," he said. "I think that's where our audience is and that's the type of game we want to be. We want to be inclusive. We want to have people judged on their talent and their morals, how they treat people, instead of the color of their skin or where they were raised or anything like that. It's something we take pride in in our sport and try to instill in everyone that watches."
Holtby also takes pride in the Capitals' active role in the Washington area throughout Hockey Is For Everyone month and beyond. For their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, the Capitals hosted a Hockey Is For Everyone month women's theme night that included the United Arab Emirates women's national team dropping the puck for a ceremonial opening faceoff.
Video: CBJ@WSH: UAE Women's Team drops puck on HIFE night
Future Capitals' Hockey Is For Everyone month events include a celebration of youth hockey during their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNW, TVAS, NBCSWA, FS-D, NHL.TV), the annual Junior Women's Hockey League (JWHL) Challenge Cup at Kettler Capitals Iceplex from Feb. 15-19, a Military Night game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 20, a Black History in Hockey theme night against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 24 and a You Can Play Night game against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 27.
"It's great," Holtby said of the Capitals' involvement. "Especially being in the city that we're in, I think it sends a good message and it's a message I believe in and I think our organization does, too. We're very diverse in the areas that we're trying to improve the culture of the game and the culture of the world that way. It's something I'm proud of. I'm proud to be a part of this team that supports people of all different areas."
Holtby hopes to be busy playing for the Capitals when the 2018 Capital Pride Parade is held on June 9, but said he'd love to march again when he is free.
"If there is an opportunity, it's just fun to go to," he said. "It's a really fun experience for anyone who is thinking of going. People are happy. It's fun to see that many happy people in one place."