The Black Girl Hockey Club exemplifies what the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative is about. It started when club founder Renee Hess reached out to other Black female hockey fans because she wanted to create a safer space for herself and others within hockey fandom, but it has since taken on a life of its own.
The NHL has supported the club tremendously and the Capitals made sure that their inaugural trip to DC in December was spectacular. “From the top to the bottom, the entire organization wanted to make sure we felt welcome,” said Hess in an interview with RMNB.
Hess hopes that the club is not only a safe space for Black women, but that it also “inspires hockey fans to not only welcome folks who maybe don’t have their same background, but also to be understanding of how alienating the hockey world can seem for marginalized people.”
Hess flew into DC from California mid-December for a two-day meetup, culminating with a Saturday night game against the Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena which the Capitals won 4-3 in a shootout.
Forty-five Black women and their friends and families came together to attend the game.
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Before the game the club met with one of the Capitals’ owners, Earl Stafford, and the league’s only Black referee, Shandor Alphonso, for food and conversation. “The Caps worked with the NHL to make sure our group had a blast at the game.”
They also spent the evening with defender Kelsey Koelzer, the first overall pick in the NWHL draft in 2016, who currently plays for the Metropolitan Riveters.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing,” Koelzer said in an interview with SportsNet. “I really do wish that there was something like that for me when I was growing up. It was a no brainer for me really, to push forward the mission that they’re on.”
— Black Girl Hockey Club #BGHC (@BlackGirlHockey) December 16, 2018
The highlight of the trip for Hess came after the game as the group convened to the locker room waiting for the players to arrive.
“Everyone was pumped because the Caps won in OT, laughing and just enjoying themselves,” Hess said. “It was a dream of mine to have a group of Black women get together at a hockey game and seeing everyone together got me right in the soft spot!”
The club would soon be met by Capitals’ two Black players, Devante Smith-Pelly and Madison Bowey, as well as the team’s Hockey is for Everyone ambassador Braden Holtby, and Nic Dowd, who’s gotten involved in many of the Capitals’ outreach efforts since joining the team this season.
“Seeing a group like that is pretty special,” said Smith-Pelly. “To see a group of–not only black people, but black women—-joining forces for the love of the game? It’s crazy, it’s something I never, ever thought I would see. Hopefully, that group continues to grow and grow.”
It hasn’t stopped growing yet. Hess has heard from fans all across North America who “are excited to have a safe space meant for them in the hockey fandom.”
Making a fandom, an arena, or any space, safer and more welcoming for one group makes it safer and more welcoming for others. “If hockey really is for everyone, then fans need to not only welcome folks from various races, genders and sexualities, but encourage safe spaces for them, as well.” Together, Hess, the BGHC, and the NHL are working to achieve that positive change.
If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about the club, you can go to the BGHC blog, or follow them on Twitter @BlackGirlHockey or Instagram @blackgirlhockeyclub. A newsletter will be coming soon and the DC contingent is planning a project to help refurbish the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, and more trips will be planned for next year to new locations.
Headline photo: NHL
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