VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson isn't sure what to expect at his first Pride Parade but he knows why it's important to be a part of it.
Gudbranson will join teammate Troy Stecher, mascot Finn, and an expected 30 staff members from the Canucks marching at the 39th annual Vancouver Pride Parade on Sunday.
"The hockey community is all about being inclusive," Gudbranson said. "Everybody should feel comfortable in their own skin. Having sport get in the way of someone based on sexual orientation or gender or race is absolutely wrong. Everyone is very open-minded in the hockey community and it's good to be out there showing that and supporting that."
Gudbranson is coming off his first season with the Canucks after playing the previous five with the Florida Panthers. His participation in the Vancouver Pride Parade continues a Canucks tradition that started in 2012, when then-center and current assistant coach Manny Malhotra marched with a local hockey team alongside Patrick Burke, the NHL director of player safety and a co-founder of the You Can Play Project.
Former Canucks forward Emerson Etem marched last summer, part of an increased role that now includes an official spot in the parade, two Canucks-themed vehicles, increased staff involvement and a large rainbow banner with the team logo.
Etem wore a specialized jersey with his name and number in rainbow colors last summer, and Canucks players all wore a similar jersey for warmups prior to a Feb. 28 game against the Detroit Red Wings as part of You Can Play Night and the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative to encourage safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.
Gudbranson appreciates the initiatives and his chance to march but said living the message on a daily basis on the ice and in the locker room is just as important.
"Words that were once used have completely vanished; there is an understanding as to how hurtful they can be," Gudbranson said. "I have seen the growth of this community and the importance and how the general view towards it has changed."