NCAA hockey features some of the most intense rivalries in the sport, but when it comes to making the game more inclusive, everyone is coming together for the cause. On Wednesday night, there was an introductory press conference for a new group called College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, which features members from every D1 conference in the nation.
Representatives on the call included WCHA vice president and women’s commissioner Jennifer Flowers (chair of the group), Nebraska-Omaha men’s assistant coach Paul Jerrard and Northeastern director of athletics Jeff Konya, as well as a host of players.
The initiative was born out of conversations between commissioners, led by Hockey East’s Steve Metcalf, in the wake of the George Floyd murder. A group of 27 players, coaches and administrators formed in September and has been meeting consistently ever since.
“The energy and commitment that this group has brought to each meeting is inspiring,” Flowers said. “We are united in our goal and recognize there is work to be done.”
The overarching goal is to ensure that college hockey is a welcoming environment for everyone and to that end, the group hopes to inspire positive cultural change through four pillars: education, communication, allyship and advocacy.
“I want to be an active part of the change I want to see in the world,” said Tina Kampa, a blueliner with Bemidji State. “I hope this group is able to educate, unify and expand the game of hockey to communities that don’t really know much about the sport.”
Similarly, Alabama-Huntsville defenseman Ayodele Adeniye wants to get out into his college community to get kids involved in the sport. He himself learned about hockey through an NHL diversity program in Columbus.
“I’m going to start going to the Boys & Girls Club in Huntsville to teach kids how to play street hockey,” he said. “It might not be ice hockey, but it might be a little easier for them to start and bring them into the game.”
The group has already launched its website and tangible initiatives are upcoming. There have been some early conversations with the NHL, though most of the work has been internal so far. Having said that, the players invested in the group have already been thinking about the big picture.
“I really want to work on changing locker-room culture and the conversations I have with my teammates,” said New Hampshire goalie Nikki Harnett. “I play women’s hockey now, but I grew up playing boy’s hockey and I know what goes on in those locker rooms. I want our culture change to be so deep, that it changes what people talk about when they think nobody is listening.”
Adeniye is well aware of that, too.
“To be blatantly honest,” he said, “some of the stuff people say is appalling and I’m not a fan of it.”
There is also the task of dealing with white privilege, something rife in an expensive sport that is well behind the other major leagues when it comes to multiculturalism. San Jose Sharks draft pick Jasper Weatherby has done his best to show his teammates at North Dakota what that means and he has been pleased with the reception so far.
“There are a lot of people in our locker room who aren’t aware, or haven’t seen this with their own eyes – through no fault of their own; they weren’t put in these situations – so I took it upon myself to show them what it’s like to be in this country and not be a white person from the wealthy suburbs,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of talks in our room and it’s been awesome to hear the feedback from some of the guys who had no idea about these issues. I’m really proud of the guys.”
But the group isn’t limiting itself to issues of race alone. Acknowledging the disparity between men’s and women’s hockey is also important. For example, Weatherby made headlines when he knelt during the national anthem when North Dakota was playing in the NCHC bubble earlier this season. Kampa and Harnett have also knelt during the anthem on the women’s side and received no recognition whatsoever.
There is a long road ahead for this new group, but they have the energy and they have the knowledge that they’re all in it together to inspire positive change in the sport.
“We know we’re not going to change things overnight and we aren’t planning on going away,” Flowers said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”