As part of the Washington Capitals' Hockey Is For Everyone Night game against the Edmonton Oilers at Verizon Center on Feb. 24, goaltender Braden Holtby will wear an equality-themed mask to support the You Can Play Project.
Holtby has long been an advocate of the LGBTQ community and the You Can Play Project's message of equality and inclusion in sports regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Last June, Holtby and his wife, Brandi, marched in the Capital Pride Parade in Washington after attending the Capital Pride Festival in 2015.
That made him the natural choice to be the Capitals' You Can Play ambassador. The NHL is celebrating Hockey is for Everyone month in February to promote diversity and inclusion in the game, and each of the League's teams has designated an You Can Play ambassador to be a leader in his locker room and community in the fight against homophobia in sports.
"We've tried to get involved with that the last few years, my wife and I," Holtby said. "I think there's quite a few guys that would [be the You Can Play ambassador]. It was just me being able to be involved in it a little bit more last year with the pride parade and it was such a fun thing. It was a good opportunity to create some awareness and some thoughts on a good cause."
Holtby's equality-themed mask is part of that. He will autograph the mask and it will be auctioned off along signed sticks with rainbow-colored "Pride Tape" that select Capitals players will use in practice on Feb. 23. The auction is open on Handbid at https://hand.bid/CapsHIFE and will conclude at the end of the second intermission of the Feb. 24 game.
Those attending Hockey is for Everyone Night can participate in the auction at the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation table on the main concourse at Section 104. All proceeds will benefit the You Can Play Project.
The game will also include a ceremonial puck drop with American Special Hockey Association Washington Ice Dogs player Sam Smith of Rockville, Maryland, and various local youth hockey programs will join in the festivities throughout the night.
"They're doing a good job with it in the fact they're saying hockey is for everyone," Holtby said. "It's not strictly LGBTQ community issues. It's everyone. We want to be an inclusive sport, inclusive to everyone. Hockey is a sport for enjoyment and to create bonds and friendships, and we want to do that with everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, race, anything."
Holtby has always believed in the importance of inclusion, not just in sports, and thinks it's important to "teach your kids, teach your friends, and do it yourself, to treat everyone equally and respect everyone around you."
He enjoyed marching with his wife in the pride parade last year. It was the first time the Capitals had an official representative in the event.
"It was a fun opportunity that the Caps were able to march in it," Holtby said. "We were going to go anyway. If you've ever been to one, it's nothing but positive vibes. It's fun. People are just being free and enjoying themselves for those few hours of the weekend because it's pride weekend. If you haven't been, you should go. It teaches you something about life."