Carnegie Initiative shines light on programs attempting to make hockey more inclusive

Hugh Fraser is sitting in an unenviable position as the new chair of Hockey Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)
Hugh Fraser is sitting in an unenviable position as the new chair of Hockey Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

The Carnegie Initiative recently held its second annual summit, a conference for industry leaders, media, organizations and people working to make hockey a more inclusive space.

Ted Nolan introduced Saturday's conference with a land acknowledgment, before Carnegie Initiative founders Bernice Carnegie and Bryant McBride regaled attendees with a warm welcome.

Here are some of the key learnings and takeaways from this weekend’s event in Toronto:

The scalability of alternative hockey programming models

Moezine Hasham was honoured as one of the seven inaugural recipients of the Herbert Carnegie Trailblazer Award, commemorating industry leaders who are looking to make hockey a safe and accessible space for everyone. Hasham is deeply passionate about finding alternative models to traditional hockey programming in Canada.

Hasham’s foundation, Hockey 4 Youth, provides ice time, equipment and programming completely free of cost to Canadian newcomers and marginalized communities. He says his program has worked with over 600 kids representing 38 different countries and that 71 percent of newcomers express a desire to play hockey, but only one percent actually have the means to do so.

It’s worth noting that Hasham is intentional with his attire, rocking a hoodie saying #ITSLARRYSTURN, a direct reference to a campaign around getting Larry Kwong, who broke the NHL’s colour barrier with the New York Rangers, into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I think what we've created is replicable anywhere in the country because at the end of the day, I always give this example: if you're a 15-year-old girl and you've just arrived from Syria into Canada, how are you going to access the game of hockey? Unfortunately, the answer from the minor hockey community is that there is no door to be opened there," Hasham said. "The creation of this model is helpful from the perspective of yes, it is replicable. You can do it in other parts of the country. All you need is access to the ice rink.

“We're also not impacting minor hockey because we don't run during primetime ice. What I'm saying here essentially is, we're removing every barrier we can think of. So whether it's ice time, coaching, equipment, it's all free. The barriers are being removed and the kids are being well plugged in. That safe and inclusive environment doesn't always exist in hockey. And that can be a frightening experience to somebody who is new to the game. Especially when you see the stories of racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny — those will turn people away from the sport. We're trying to turn people to look into the sport and know nothing about it, but as soon as they get on the ice, they fall in love with it.”

Marian Jacko has joined the board of Hockey Canada, but she’s also the president of the Little Native Hockey League, which has grown from 17 teams in 1971 to 227 teams during the last tournament in 2019. Jacko says the tournament arose due to anti-Indigenous racism and though it has only been played in Ontario, it could be used as a model across Canada.

“There are 133 First Nations in Ontario. At the last tournament, 90 of those First Nations were represented at the tournament, whether they had a team or they had a player from that First Nation playing for another First Nation. But there were a number of First Nations represented at the tournament and this is only Ontario. So if you take that across the country, every single province quite frankly could do the same thing. And they could do this at the national level.”

Hasham and Jacko are industry leaders because of their commitment to making the sport better for children. McBride said the common theme of this year’s event was making hockey better for children, and there are few people more invested in this goal than Hasham and Jacko.

Hockey of Tomorrow launches the sport into a bright, limitless future

Chanel Keenan thought it was too good to be true when she was asked to lead the content vision of a new venture with a focus on telling stories that exist outside hockey’s mainstream. Keenan is a powerhouse in hockey, having served as the first-ever intersectionality consultant for the Seattle Kraken. Now, she’s looking to shape the media in the way she’s always envisioned with the launch of Hockey For Tomorrow.

“We don't want to be your average sports publication with scores and cap space and things like that,” Keenan told Yahoo Sports Canada during a phone interview Monday. “Obviously, there are exceptions if there's a big anniversary game or someone reaches 1,000 points, there's always room for everything. I think just having a shared vision with someone who has a lot of privilege but given his condition as a CIS white male, he really breaks the mold and barriers for other people and provide them a platform to share their passions.”

Thomas Sychterz and Julien Quincoi both seem well aware of their privilege in this space and want to make Hockey For Tomorrow to celebrate non-traditional stories in hockey, ranging from tech and innovation to culture, with a plan to roll out short and long form stories.

“A couple of concepts are very important that we think are quite unique that all of our contributors speak from the heart and speak from experience,” Sychterz told Yahoo Sports Canada. “They're diverse, they're fresh voices, and they're people we feel come from marginalized spaces traditionally from the hockey space. One of our secret weapons is that we have a bunch of hockey players on board. Over 150 pro players that are interested and excited to get involved."

Danielle Bain is an ascending star in the hockey media world as a reporter covering the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Bain says she had a positive experience playing hockey growing up, but when she saw the hardships that her friends from the LGBTQ+ community faced while playing hockey, she wanted to use her career to positively affect change in sports.

“In terms of media and getting yourself out there, this company has so much potential and that was one of those things that drew me to it as well,” Bain told Yahoo Sports Canada. “I thought the hockey space is changing, there's a lot of momentum going in the right direction of telling important stories and even though I am really passionate about it, I do believe in the cause as well. It's not traditional media, it broadens my skill set. It brings me experiences that I learn from daily. I like that it's not the cookie-cutter style and that it tells important stories.”

With a hand-selected roster of some of the industry’s rising talents, Hockey For Tomorrow is going to ensure the future of hockey media looks different than what traditionally exists in other mediums.

Protecting the LGBTQ+ communities while empowering queer and trans youth in hockey

Brock McGillis is one of the first openly gay hockey players and during a particularly terrifying time for LGBTQ+ communities, he’s continuing to work with children and teenagers to make the sport a safer space.

“I think my community is really under attack right now,” McGillis told Yahoo Sports Canada.

“It breaks my heart and it fuels me to push even harder to be quite honest, because these kids need to be able to exist. And they're so brave that they are coming out younger and younger. And there are more exclusive environments but there are areas where it's not. I think it matters and we have to continue to show them they can exist and not only exist, but they can thrive societally, in sport, in whatever they want to do."

McGillis launched the Alphabet Sports Collective in January 2022 and told Yahoo Sports Canada there needs to be less performative action and more of a corrective approach to addressing homophobic and transphobic language in locker rooms.

“I think we have a tendency to conflate corporations putting rainbows in their logo as inclusion, and I think we have to look at the corporate culture versus the corporate social responsibility and outward facing identity and really tackle that. In hockey, we have Pride Nights and it's lovely but that's not fixing anything in locker rooms. So we have to start asking those questions: when are we going to fix those areas?”

Daniel Larson is the founder of Team Trans Ice Hockey, an international collective of players who all identify as trans or gender non-conforming. Larson said the team came together after meeting during a 2019 weekend in Boston and quickly drew the ire of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson.

In spaces like the Carnegie Initiative, Larson will always be safe, but that hasn’t always been the experience in society generally.

"We still have a lot of safety and security concerns around our events," Larson said. "We don't want to invite drama. But we're doing the best we can on that journey."

McGillis and Larson are leaders in their respective spaces. The LGBTQ+ community has been threatened by people who want them to feel excluded from traditional hockey spaces. It’s on cisgender allies — and all of us in the hockey world — to ensure our friends in these communities can continue to play hockey without fear or feeling othered.

“To get to a place where you can get back to the magic of what is this game, for us, that's the most important thing,” Larson said.

Hockey Canada’s new board outlines its preliminary vision

Hugh Fraser is sitting in an unenviable position as the new chair of Hockey Canada. Fraser is all too aware of the organization’s tarnished reputation after concurrent sexual assault allegations levied against the governing body. Fraser built an extensive legislative career and he’s ready to take on the momentous task of reestablishing public trust with Canadians.

Fraser said diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives would be a key priority for the new Hockey Canada board while finding a new CEO.

“We know that there's a ways to go to do that but we put everything with a principled approach, trying to make sure that the decisions that we take are for the right reasons,” Fraser told Yahoo Sports Canada. “Again, it's fairness, it's equity. You build the trust by demonstrating that you're going to follow that principled approach. You're not out there in a popularity contest but you have to make sure the stewardship of the organization is looked after and the accessibility of the sport is a priority for us.

“We know that trust isn't built up overnight but we think because we have the determination and the will to do it, and a board committed to that, it will happen.”

Jacko has extensive organizing and legislative experience and will be a massive part of the new Hockey Canada board. Jacko is the assistant deputy attorney general for the Indigenous Justice Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General and is also the president of the Little Native Hockey League. Jacko and Nolan are the two foremost authorities on Indigenous and First Nation relationships with hockey, so I asked her about why she took on her new role with Hockey Canada.

“In terms of what I'm doing there, for me, my motivation for doing that work and occupying that space firstly is because of the kids," Jacko said. "My previous job prior to being the assistant deputy attorney general for Indigenous justice, I was the children's lawyer for the Province of Ontario for over four years and prior to that I worked over 15 years at the office of the children's lawyer advocating for children and youth in the province of Ontario.

“So I'm very passionate about advocating for children and youth. And in particular, in this instance, advocating for them to have more space in the area of ice hockey.”

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