DALLAS -- Curtis McKenzie first met Brendan Burke on a bus ride from Cincinnati to Oxford, Ohio, in September of 2009.
Then a freshman at Miami University, McKenzie sat next to Burke on the hour-long bus ride back to campus after watching Miami lose 42-0 to the University of Kentucky.
"I didn't really know who he was or anything about him before that trip," said McKenzie, a Dallas Stars forward. "But you could just tell how genuine of a person he was right away. I was lucky to know him for the time I did."
That's why it was an honor for McKenzie to serve as the Stars' You Can Play ambassador during the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone month. Each NHL team has an ambassador that was selected for his leadership in the locker room and in the community regarding inclusion within the sport.
Burke, the son of longtime NHL executive Brian Burke and brother of Patrick Burke, the Director of Player Safety for the NHL, came out as gay in 2009. He died in an automobile accident on Feb. 5, 2010. Part of Burke's legacy is the You Can Play Project, which pushes for inclusion for all in hockey and is helping to promote the NHL's campaign.
"I wasn't there when he came out, that was the season before. But we were close from the time I joined the team (at Miami)," McKenzie said. "At Miami there was a culture of acceptance within the team, and it was such a great environment."
Burke filled several roles at Miami, including as the team manager and video coordinator, and was a key part of the family atmosphere that Miami calls "The Brotherhood."
"It's a culture of inclusion and accepting of everyone," McKenzie said. "It's just about enjoying your teammates and being there and knowing that they can count on you and that you have their back no matter what the situation. It was a great spot for Brendan to be working."
NHL officials asked McKenzie to be the Stars ambassador, and he said yes immediately.
"I didn't know they were doing something. It's awesome," McKenzie said. "When they approached me about it, it was an easy answer."
The Stars will host their Hockey Is For Everyone awareness night Feb. 24 against the Arizona Coyotes. The Stars have yet to announce a full schedule of events for the night, but the team will celebrate the LGBTQ community.
"I have that personal connection and this is important to me," McKenzie said. "I'm very, very lucky to have an opportunity to help pass on Brendan's legacy."