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Hockey Is For Everyone

Shawn Thornton of Panthers set for Pride Night

Veteran forward happy to serve as Florida's You Can Play ambassador

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers forward Shawn Thornton has long supported the NHL's initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, and he's front and center again this season.

Thornton is the You Can Play ambassador for the Panthers this season, and he'll be among eight players who will have "Pride Tape" on their sticks during warmups before their game against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, PRIME, NHL.TV).

"I definitely have friends in the community," Thornton said. "I'm happy to lend my name to it and the support. This is one of those things that not everybody in the world is completely on board with. I'm a supporter of it. I think everyone has the right to be who they are and what they want to be.

"That includes coming into our locker room. If it ever happened, I'd fully support a teammate if they're openly out. I think we're a family in here and we would treat that teammate as family and there'd be nothing but full support and love."

As part of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone month, the Panthers are hosting Pride Night on Friday. Coaches, executives and broadcasters will be wearing You Can Play lapel pins.

Along with Thornton, teammates using Pride Tape during warmups include defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Mark Pysyk, Jason Demers and Mike Matheson, and forwards Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Michael Sgarbossa.

"As players in the NHL, all of us [support You Can Play]," Bjugstad said. "It's a game that you want everyone to get into, whether you're black, white, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, whatever. It doesn't matter. We want to make sure we're letting the fans know that's how we feel. It'll be fun tonight, and hopefully everyone will kind of jump on and use the tape. It's a small thing we can do, but hopefully it'll create some awareness that there's no judgment in the locker room, there's no judgment outside the locker room. I think it's good that the NHL is taking part, and the players are really stepping up, too."

Thornton first got involved in the initiative when he was with the Boston Bruins.

"I was asked in Boston [and] I think it was more, if the tough guy will say it, then who's going to say anything else, right?" Thornton said. "I think that's kind of why I was approached. We had a good locker room and guys were very supportive of all of this."

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