At least one Canucks player won’t be wearing a themed warm-up jersey when Vancouver hosts its annual Pride party on Friday.
Coach Rick Tocchet says Russian winger Andrei Kuzmenko opted out of the special uniform ahead of the home game against the Calgary Flames after discussions with his family.
“I’m not going to go into detail because we don’t know what deals are going on there. So I respect his decision,” Tocchet said.
Kuzmenko, 27, became a fan favorite in his first NHL season, with his broad smile and outgoing personality.
He has 37 goals and 31 assists in 73 games and leads the Canucks in goals.
Some of his teammates have publicly pledged to wear the jerseys, designed by local artist Christin Hryc. The main crest features a rainbow and flowers on the Canucks orca logo, as well as rainbow patches on the shoulders.
“I think everyone in this room is looking forward to it,” defenseman Quinn Hughes said Wednesday. “And I know that in our organization, everyone is welcome.
“Every time we did the Pride night, I wore the jersey and celebrated the night.”
Star center Elias Pettersson said Friday that he, too, supports the annual event.
“I think it’s important to show that everyone is welcome here,” he said. “And I will wear the jersey tonight.”
Vancouver has a number of other initiatives planned for Friday, including a pregame drag show outside Rogers Arena and in-game performances. A $20,000 donation is also being made to QMUNITY, a Vancouver nonprofit that supports LGBTQ people and their allies.
Kuzmenko joins a handful of NHL players who have refused to wear Pride jerseys this season, including Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer, La Panthers Eric and Marc Staal. Florida and Buffalo Sabers blue defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin.
Lyubushkin cited a Kremlin anti-gay law and fears of retaliation at home in Russia for opting out of the Sabers’ pre-game warm-up at the team’s Pride party.
Whether a player wears the themed jersey depends on individual rights, new NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said in Toronto Thursday.
“The LGBTQ community shouldn’t feel like NHL hockey players are turning their backs on this community. The majority of players wore the jersey,” said Walsh, who has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights during his political career.
He added that the league will likely have more conversations about the issue in the future.
“But I think it’s really important that as a league and as a locker room, we are inclusive and support everyone’s right to support the game,” Walsh said.
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