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NHL makes greater strides toward LGBTQ inclusion

The Colorado Avalanche hosts its annual Pride Game to benefit You Can Play and the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative.

DENVER — Pride Night is not just another promotional evening for the Colorado Avalanche. It's a moment to show solidarity with a marginalized community. The annual Pride game benefits You Can Play, a social activism campaign dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports, as well as the NHL's own initiative, Hockey is for Everyone.

Avalanche forward Tyson Jost is a big proponent of these programs.

"Everyone should be comfortable in their own skin and who they are and who they are as a person, so whether that's a fan or a player or a person, we want them to be comfortable and comfortable in this environment," he said.

But it hasn't always been that easy. Tyson Jost recalls a time when hockey wasn't the most inclusive sport.

"Looking back on when I was younger, being in that hockey community and even going to school in Minot [North Dakota], you could just see those slurs that were used. It wasn't a normal thing, but it was in a sense, and now you look back on it and it's just so wrong and you kind of can't believe that it was the norm," Jost said. "So, it's great that we have taken that step to recognize that it's wrong and we still need to do more to recognize that there's just no place for it."

The NHL has taken some important steps, including welcoming the first openly gay player to a professional contract. Luke Prokop came out in July, after signing with the Nashville Predators organization.

RELATED: Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop comes out as gay

"Him doing that is just absolutely outstanding, just the courage it takes," Jost said. "I hope if there's any other players out there that want to come out, that they are comfortable enough to do that because you shouldn't be hiding who you are, you should express who you are and I believe you should feel comfortable in your own skin."

Jost also spoke highly about the first openly gay player agent, Bayne Pettinger, and how he's combatting homophobia in the sport, as well.

"When he came out, you could just see the support that he was flooded with throughout the NHL community and friends and family. I can't even imagine how many texts he got throughout the NHL just from guys he worked with previously and from his agency," he said. "Bayne's just such a spectacular guy and what's he's done has taken so much courage and it's just another step to show that there's space for this in hockey, and like I said, hockey is for everyone."

The Colorado Avalanche host the Calgary Flames on Saturday, March 5 at 8pm for the team's annual Pride Night. The team is also hosting an official Pride-themed watch party at Triangle Bar, an LGBTQ bar in Denver, on Monday, March 7 at 5:30.

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