Patrick Burke speaks about players lending support to You Can Play Project for gay athletes

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By now hockey fans are familiar with the story of Brendan Burke, son of Leafs GM Brian Burke. Brendan was the first man in hockey to come out to his team as a homosexual while working as a coach at Miami University. The acceptance shown to him by his team and his family was a heartwarming story for all who have fears of doing the same and where the You Can Play Project gets its starting point.

You Can Play is getting support from a number of NHL players and showing their support through a PSA you’ll see later today on NBC’s game of the week between the Bruins and Rangers. Patrick Burke is a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the co-founders of You Can Play and Burke tells PHT that the aim of the project is to make the locker rooms and arenas safe for gay athletes.

“We’re trying to raise awareness of the issues LGBT athletes face. I don’t think enough people are aware just how hard a locker room can be on gay athletes of all ages,” Burke says.

Filming a PSA that features Patrick and his father Brian along with 12 NHL stars helps serve notice that the league is serious about breaking down the barriers for those that want to enjoy sports. Featured in the spot are Rick Nash, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, Corey Perry, Andy Greene, Duncan Keith, Daniel Alfredsson, Brian Boyle, and Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a lot of fire power and there’s more help on the way.

“We’ve got 35 guys committed to the filming so far with 30 guys I believe now have been filmed,” Burke says. “We’re hoping that as other guys see the PSAs and see what we’re all about that more and more of them will find ways to get involved to show their support.”

It won’t be easy at the start, and we’ve seen instances this season where the kind of language they’re hoping to eliminate from locker rooms is out there, but with what the You Can Play Project is trying to do, Burke says their aim is to teach and not vilify.

“We’re about education. We’re not about anything else. We’re not about punishment or vilifying or making enemies. We’re just here to show people what the issues are and how best to combat them,” Burke says.

So it’s like teaching through kindness then?

“Yeah… Well, we’re still the Burkes so we’ll drop the gloves if we have to.”

Here’s video of the PSA you’ll see during this afternoon’s tilt between the Rangers and Bruins. You can read up more on the You Can Play Project at their website or follow them on Twitter.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”

Slumping Wild bring Eriksson Ek over from Sweden

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Well, this sure is interesting.

Joel Eriksson Ek, one of Minnesota’s most prized prospects, has been brought back to North America after spending the majority of this season playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Hockey League.

And according to the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo, he might soon join the Wild.

More:

[Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau] said he didn’t know if the plan was to yet start him with Iowa or Minnesota, but I can’t imagine the Wild would recall him if the plan wasn’t to eventually have him in its lineup here.

In fact, he could be on the ice for Wednesday’s practice.

Sources close to Eriksson Ek say he’s flying from Karlstad to Germany to Chicago to here. Can’t imagine he lands and is put in a car to Des Moines, but we’ll see if they do want to give him a few games there.

Eriksson Ek, 20, appeared in nine games for the Wild earlier this season, and acquitted himself well offensively — two goals and five points. But by the end of his stint, he was reduced to fourth-line minutes and sat as a healthy scratch before the club decided to return him to Sweden.

Interestingly, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher suggested Eriksson Ek’s strongest attributes translated well to the NHL level.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player. If anything, going back and playing on the bigger ice and handling the puck and making plays would enhance his long-term development.”

It’ll be curious to see if Eriksson Ek — the 20th overall pick in ’15 — developed the way the Wild hoped. He had 16 points in 26 games for Farjestads, and could certainly provide an injection of energy, something the club needs desperately.

Minnesota is 3-10-1 in March, and has fallen way back of Chicago for first place in the Central Division. What’s more, the Nashville Predators have surged to within six points of the Wild for second place, which is a stunning turn of events (on Feb. 28, the Wild were 15 points clear of the Preds.)

The Wild have two home games this week: Tonight against the Caps, then Thursday against the Sens.