Inspired by the Edmonton Oilers' efforts to raise awareness for the LGBT community last season, Buffalo Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson is continuing his support for the cause with a rainbow flag on the back of his mask.
"I have a couple friends who are gay, and life hasn't been easy for them growing up," Nilsson told the Buffalo News. "It's time that hockey starts to pay some attention to that."
Nilsson was a member of the Edmonton Oilers last season when they were the first NHL team to use Pride Tape during their annual team Skills Competition. He said his decision to put the flag on his mask came from that experience.
"We brought awareness last year in Edmonton," Nilsson said. "This summer, I thought why not be the first goalie to put that on the helmet and raise some awareness for that?"
Wade Davis, director of the You Can Play advocacy campaign, said Nilsson's gesture was important for a number of reasons. In an email to the Buffalo News, Davis said:
"For the NHL, it means that they have created an environment where at least one of its players felt safe enough that he could express his views on an issue and that the league would support him," Davis said. "It also means that the education the league has provided to its players is raising awareness around an issue that impacts everyone, not just the LGBT community.
"For NHL fans, it means they will not be able to watch a Sabres game without being reminded that someone in a hyper-masculine sport cares about a marginalized group that many don't associate with hockey.
"For You Can Play, it means that our efforts to educate players and raise their awareness about the impact their voices can have to create bonds between two communities that are often disconnected is working.
"For someone who's LGBT it means they have a friend and brother in Anders Nilsson. It means that if there's a player or front-office person who is LGBT open or not, they can find safety and comfort knowing that Anders Nilsson is someone they can count on."
Nilsson isn't the first NHL goalie to use his platform to promote inclusiveness. Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was a participant in the Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C. on June 11, and Calgary Flames goalie Chad Johnson marched in the Calgary Pride Parade on Sept. 4.