Dmitry Kulikov

Kings' center Jordan Nolan finds himself in a first period crunch as Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov gives him a shove from behind and right into goalie Jacob Markstrom. (Robert Duyos, Sun Sentinel / October 13, 2013)

The Florida Panthers want to play with their gay fans.

The team is hosting its first Equality Night, which invites local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks and their friends to attend a game to help fight homophobia in professional sports.

The event, which will start at 7 p.m Saturday, is being presented by the Pride Center, a gay community center in Wilton Manors, and the You Can Play Project, a national nonprofit group of gay and straight athletes.

The goal: draw LGBT sports fans who may not have felt comfortable attending hockey games before at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, in Sunrise. The event is open to anyone.


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"It's all about acceptance and equality," says Brandon Loker, the Panthers' group sales account executive who pushed for the event. Loker, who is gay, wanted to help change stereotypes about gays in sports.

"It's really important to show that there are different avenues for gay athletes. It's another avenue for people to gain awareness for the community," he says.

During Saturday's game between the Panthers and the Minnesota Wild, there will be public service announcements and shout-outs to local groups that support equality. After the game, there will be photo opps with supporters on the ice.

"I'm a huge believer in diversity in this world,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "We are very respectful of that and extremely proud to be part of an organization, the NHL, that is on board with diversity and you can play.''

Tickets cost from $25 to $75, depending on the package, which can include photos in the rink, a reception and unlimited food and beverages. Portions of the proceeds benefit the Pride Center.

Call 954-835-7290 or email lokerb@floridapanthers.com.

johnnydiaz@tribune.com or 954-356-4939