Story By: Stuart McComish HAMILTON, Ont. – The Hamilton Bulldogs have recently become the sixth American Hockey League team to pledge their support to the You Can Play project.
The Bulldogs joined the Manchester Monarchs, Providence Bruins, Peoria Rivermen, Portland Pirates and Toronto Marlies as other AHL teams to have come out in support of You Can Play, a non-profit organization begun by former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and his son Patrick to fight homophobia in sports in memory of Brendan Burke, Brian’s son and Patrick’s brother, who was killed in a car accident in 2010. At the time of his death Brendan Burke was the student manager for the Miami University men’s hockey team.
The 52-second, black-and-white video was debuted during the Bulldogs’ Feb. 12 home date against the Marlies. Previously, the Bulldogs had played a You Can Play video featuring a number of National Hockey League stars.
“We played our video against Toronto and we had a tremendous applause with some people offering a standing ovation,” Bulldogs president Stephen Ostaszewicz said recently. “I tweeted it on Twitter and had it retweeted 17 times, I don’t think I have had anything retweeted as much as that. Brian Burke was here at that game and saw it.”
Bulldogs’ personnel shown in the video, in order of appearance, are Kyle Hagel, Zack Stortini, Ostaszewicz, play-by-play announcer Derek Wills, Frederic St-Denis, Robert Mayer, Joey Tenute, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Leblanc, Jason DeSantis, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre and Nathan Beaulieu. St-Denis and Dumont offer their statement in French.
“We put this video together and utilized other team’s videos as a reference point to drive what we would put together,” said Ostaszewicz. “To my knowledge every player recited it and we put it together from there. To me, it’s a powerful piece and we are the only AHL team that has done part of it in French. It blew me away the first time I watched it.”
Ostaszewicz said he had considered getting the Bulldogs involved in the You Can Play project before the AHL canvassed teams to gauge interest.
“I was already thinking about approaching You Can Play to see what we could do. I was aware of the Marlies pledge and I have been aware of You Can Play since its beginning. I remember when Brendan Burke came out to ESPN and I thought he showed a tremendous amount of courage and fortitude to make the statement he did given that his father was an NHL general manager and he was working at the time with one of the most prominent teams in college hockey.”
Ostaszewicz said he approached Marc Bergevin, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bulldogs NHL parent club, to obtain his support for the initiative. Bergevin also serves as the Bulldogs’ general manager.
“Marc offered that support instantly, he said it is the right thing to do and the time is right.
“When I went to school, if there was somebody that was gay they weren’t comfortable enough to come out to their friends, whereas today’s generations of late-teens and 20-somethings are. That’s the whole point of this project, regardless of your race, religion, creed or sexual orientation, you should feel comfortable whether you play sports or not. You shouldn’t be judged, times are evolving.”
Ostaszewicz discussed the project with Lefebvre and assistant coach Donald Dufresne before approaching the players.
“Sylvain and Donald were on board immediately,” said Ostaszewicz. “We recognize the importance of this message. We didn’t do it for publicity, we believe we can make a difference. The office staff will also take the pledge.
“We had a team lunch with the office staff and the team, we are big on team unity here. When I delivered the message that we were going to participate, the players were all on board. This will be something we do annually. This is not a one-time thing for us.
“It was great that Tenute, a Hamilton guy, said we want to make Hamilton proud. Guys like Hagel and Stortini have rough and tumble roles on the ice and using them in the video sends a message. This is a way that I feel we can make a difference in the hockey world.”
For more information on You Can Play, and to see videos produced by other teams and groups, please visit www.youcanplayproject.org.