In recent history, the term ‘Hockey is For Everyone’ has been used more and more, pushing the game in the direction of being a more inclusive place for all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Professional hockey players have taken this stance time and time again, and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues is the most recent player to stand behind a group of players that was subjected to racial bullying.
Last year in in May, a team of 13 and 14 year old Indigenous hockey players were competing The Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA Tournament in Quebec, where they were faced with some pretty sickening racial taunts and bullying from other teams’ players, coaches, and fans. They hurled racist terms and noises at the team, and no suspensions or further punishments were implemented.
The incident was massively upsetting and disappointing, to say the least, and according to Blues’ reporter Chris Pinkert, it was O’Reilly’s mother, Bonnie, that first caught wind of the situation and knew she wanted to do something about it.
"It was very sad. It breaks my heart that anyone would treat children in that fashion. I thought, 'We need to do something to let these kids know that there are lots of people out here that don't feel that way and instead want to be supportive of them'", Bonnie told Pinkert.
Bonnie passed on the story to her son, who mirrored her emotions.
"It was upsetting, I think both me and my mom were upset about it. That's not what the game is about. We say Hockey Is For Everyone, and that was just disgusting. There's no place in the game for it", commented O’Reilly on the situation.
So the duo came up with a plan to show their support for the team that consists of players from Northern Quebec and Eastern Ontario, and it will come to fruition tonight in Ottawa when the Sens host the Blues, and O’Reilly will have 35 very special guests in attendance.
To make the experience happen, Bonnie reached out to the team’s manager, Tommy Neeposh, who expressed his excitement about the partnership.
"When Ryan's mother contacted me, I had to repeat myself. 'WHAT?! You're Ryan O'Reilly's mother? THE Ryan O'Reilly from the NHL?' I was like, 'Give me two minutes, I need to collect myself.' I was like a little kid, all hyped up. I looked at my wife and told her - do you know who just contacted me? Wow, just wow. It was amazing, Ryan O'Reilly thinking of doing something like that… This is something amazing, especially for the kids. They can't wait. They've been talking about it all week, and now they're counting down the days until Thursday. They're mature, like 14 and 15 years old, but they seem like little kids again. It's awesome."
The players have been invited to morning skate, where they’ll meet Ryan, which will be followed by getting treated to lunch with his parents, Bonnie and Brian. The 36 tickets are enough for each player to attend the game with a parent.
O'Reilly's message for the youngsters is clear.
"Keep enjoying and playing the game. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't."
This will undoubtedly be an experience none of these players forget, and hopefully, inspires them to keep working hard to achieve their hockey dreams.