NHL still has long way to go until hockey is truly for everyone


NHL still has long way to go until hockey is truly for everyone

On Thursday night, as part of a league-wide initiative, the Sharks will host “Hockey Is For Everyone Night” against the Vancouver Canucks. For the second straight season, the NHL designated February as “Hockey Is For Everyone” month, which sets out to ensure that:

“[H]ockey programs - from professionals to youth organizations - should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

The NHL deserves credit for this, and this is an extension of previous efforts. They were the first league to partner with the “You Can Play Project,” an organization “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety” for LGBTQ athletes. The league has also long made efforts to bring hockey programs into disadvantaged communities, with Willie O’Ree, the former Boston Bruin and the league’s first black player, often leading the charge.

These efforts have, and should, earn praise and commendation. In many ways, the NHL is ahead of the curve in fostering inclusivity.

In plenty others, the league is far behind.

For instance, the NHL opted to fine, not suspend Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf last spring when he directed a homophobic, sexist slur at an official in the postseason. It was not the same slur that earned Andrew Shaw a one-game suspension the previous postseason, and the NHL still condemned his language as “inappropriately demeaning and disrespectful,” but Getzlaf’s punishment failed to meet the league’s own precedent.

When the rubber meets the road, it’s difficult to say that hockey is truly for everyone.

If hockey was truly for everyone, black players wouldn’t be inundated with racist abuse on social media for scoring a game-winning goal in and against Boston, one of the league’s ‘original six’ teams and the first to integrate 60 years ago.

If hockey was truly for everyone, indigenous children would not be forced to quit, rather than wear a logo they find offensive, that happens to look an awful lot like the logo worn by another one of the league’s ‘original six’ franchises -- the Chicago Blackhawks.

If hockey was truly for everyone, Chicago, the Winnipeg Jets, and the league wouldn’t continue to honor Bobby Hull, an all-time great player with a history of domestic violence who once reportedly said, "Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far."

If hockey was truly for everyone, teams would not employ low-paid, scantily-clad “ice girls,” and make the objectification of women a part of the in-game experience.

If hockey was truly for everyone, the NHL’s commissioner would not compare fans chanting ‘Katy Perry’ to Corey Perry, a chant that hinges on the notion that being a woman is inferior to being a man, to “[calling] a goaltender a sieve.”  

It may seem unfair to highlight seemingly disparate occurrences, especially as the league is making concerted efforts to combat their spread. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are problems that plague the world, not just the NHL or the hockey world, after all.

But as the world’s best, most-popular hockey league, the NHL is a standard-bearer, and taken together, these instances speak to a sport’s culture that is far from inclusive. Dedicating a month to celebrate diversity and inclusivity, but hosting nights across the league and selling rainbow-colored merchandise simply isn’t enough.

The league’s players are still overwhelmingly white and no players are publicly out, but many have taped their sticks with rainbow-colored pride tape in order to send a message of inclusion this month, just as many (if not all of) the Sharks surely will on Thursday night. But tape is only temporary.

Once it peels away, they’re just left with the same old sticks.

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.