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Blues panned for scheduling 'Hockey Is For Everyone' night on road

The St. Louis Blues are being criticized for not holding a "Hockey Is For Everyone" night during any of their 41 home games, instead opting to hold the NHL's celebration of diversity and inclusion while the team is playing at Washington.

The team announced that it will hold "the first-ever Hockey Is For Everyone Celebration and Watch Party" on March 24, when the Blues visit the Washington Capitals, becoming the only team in the NHL this season to hold its diversity night with a road game.

"HAHA, c'mon!" tweeted former NHL player Joel Ward, punctuating it with a face-palm emoji.

The Blues are one of only two teams not to have a "Hockey Is For Everyone" or LGBTQIA+ pride night on their home schedule. The other this season is the Buffalo Sabres, who bumped their "Hockey Is For Everyone" night in favor of celebration themes for the team's 50th anniversary. A Sabres representative told ESPN on Thursday that the team intends to have a "Hockey Is For Everyone"-themed home game in late March. The team said that some theme nights aren't put on their official schedule, and are announced only days before the event.

The NHL's "Hockey Is For Everyone" is a campaign that supports "a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status." For the past several seasons, teams have dedicated home games to showcasing the campaign, selling "Hockey Is For Everyone" merchandise and having players use rainbow "Pride Tape" on their sticks.

The Blues had a "Hockey Is For Everyone" home game last season before shifting it to a watch party this season. St. Louis has 12 theme nights on its 2019-20 home schedule, including "Star Wars Night," "Teacher Appreciation Night," "'90s Night" and three nights when the Blues "invited all Scouts, their families and friends" for "Scouts Night."

Pride St. Louis, which had been critical of the team for merging "Pride Night" into its "Hockey Is For Everyone" celebration, said holding the event during an away game showed "a lack of considering and understanding" of the Blues' diverse fan base.

"Pride St. Louis is saddened to hear that the St. Louis Blues have again decided not to openly welcome and support LGBTQIA+ fans in a home game for a Pride Night with the Blues. We ask of the St. Louis Blues a chance to be seen, heard and supported," Pride St. Louis said in a statement to ESPN. "Other NHL teams still have a Pride night in addition to 'Hockey is for Everyone.' These teams are using their voice to support the diversity between LGBTQIA+, people of color, physical disabilities, and gender diversity, which is inspiring."

The Blues defended the decision, citing ticket demand after their Stanley Cup championship.

"Due to unprecedented ticket demand and sales following last season's success, we weren't able to execute as many ticket promotions as we have in the past. However, instead of forgoing 'Hockey Is For Everyone' completely, we wanted to brainstorm ways to continue its application," Mike Caruso, Blues vice president of media and brand communications, told USA Today.

"That is where the idea of a watch party came in. This allows us to open the entire building -- over 18,000 seats -- for the event, instead of having just a couple hundred available for a home game. In addition, it afforded us the opportunity to introduce a charitable element where groups can sell tickets as a fundraiser and get $5 of each sale donated back to their organization. We also have the flexibility to completely tailor our game presentation and in-game activations to the HIFE initiative -- something we couldn't do at a normal home game due to pre-sold sponsorship/partner elements. Our watch parties garnered national acclaim during the playoffs last season, and we are hoping to duplicate that atmosphere with this year's HIFE event."

Tickets for the game are $10, with proceeds benefiting "participating organizations and Blues for Kids." Intermission will feature exhibitions by Blues Special Hockey Club and a 3-on-3 girls' hockey showcase.

The NHL declined to comment on the matter.