If You Can Play, Then You Can Play

After the holiday break and the start of a new year, Les Canadiennes are ready to kickstart the second half of the CWHL season against the Toronto Furies on Jan. 5th and 6th on home ice.

It’s not only an opportunity to face a great rival, battle for victory and solidify their position as a top contender in the CWHL playoff race, but also a chance for Les Canadiennes to play to their annual You Can Play game on Sunday, Jan. 6,  in front of a near-sold-out crowd.

“For us, it’s important to be able to be a fan of the people out there supporting us,” said star defence Erin Ambrose. “It’s going to be a great weekend of hockey especially with the Sportsnet game as well [on Saturday] – an exciting start to the second half of the season.”

Photo credit: Céline Gélinas/CWHL

In 2012, the CWHL became the first professional sports league to partner with YCP, an organisation that works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans.

“If there’s a fan out there who is struggling with their gender or with their sexuality, we can show them that we support them no matter what, no matter how they identify, they are welcome [in sport],” said Cavender Salvadori, YCP’s program manager. I think that a lot of times, people in the LGBTQ+ community don’t really get to experience allies, so it’s important to have partners like the CWHL.”

Each CWHL club organizes a YCP game, with plenty of fun and engaging activities for fans. Players proudly don the rainbow-coloured tape on their sticks in support of the project and partake in a ceremonial puck drop. This year in Montreal, fans can place bids on items in a silent auction that will include a signed Marie-Philip Poulin jersey, and participate in the team’s “Fabs” selfie competition.

For Salvadori, such games are prime examples of how hockey can be a space for all athletes to express themselves freely, and excel in sport.

“You will be welcomed, you will be accepted into the community, and it’s not going to change how we see you as a player,” he added.

When it comes to mobilizing athletes, coaches and fans, Ambrose feels like hockey can be at the forefront of representation and inclusivity in sport. In her experience, the sport has provided an inclusive environment, but she has noted important changes in recent years.

“I think for the most part, women’s hockey has been very welcoming and accepting but it’s become more and more accepting as I’ve grown up. I think with more people speaking out and just being proud in general, that’s been really important. Not just for hockey, but for athletes in general in the LGBTQ+ community.”

Photo credit: Shanna Martin-Book/CWHL

The Keswick, Ontario native believes that it’s important for all athletes to be united regardless of sexuality or gender identity. Such unity was on display last summer at the Montreal Pride Parade. Ambrose was joined by fellow teammate Tracy-Ann Lavigne, as they marched down the city’s downtown core alongside other athletes.

“I think our team, for example, is so accepting of every individual,” she added. “The hockey community is definitely one of the more outspoken sports, and [we hope to be] frontrunners in showing that.”