Andrei Kuzmenko won't wear Canucks Pride jersey tonight

Mar 31 2023, 7:52 pm

It appears the Vancouver Canucks will be short one player in warmup tonight.

On the night the Canucks will wear a special jersey for Pride Night, Andrei Kuzmenko won’t be one of them, head coach Rick Tocchet said after practice today.

“It’s a big night,” Tocchet told reporters. “We really believe hockey’s for everyone. Diversity, all that stuff, it’s really important.”

Tocchet said Kuzmenko’s decision was family related but didn’t want to get into specifics.

“I’m not going to get into it because we don’t know the deals that happen over there. So I respect his decision.”

Russia’s anti-gay laws have been referenced as a reason for players from that country to not wear Pride-themed jerseys for fear of repercussions when they return home. The Canucks have four Russians on their roster, but Kuzmenko will be the only one in the lineup tonight. Ilya Mikheyev is out for the rest of the season with an injury, while Vasily Podkolzin and Vitaly Kravtsov appear to be scratches. Kravtsov skated this morning and played the last game but has been in and out of the lineup recently. Podkolzin didn’t skate this morning and has missed the previous two games.

The laws in Russia have been widely seen as the reason why the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks decided to scrap plans to wear Pride jerseys this season. Ivan Provorov, a Russian defenceman for the Philadelphia Flyers, chose not to wear his team’s Pride Night jersey in January. Moscow native Ilya Lyubushkin didn’t wear the Buffalo Sabres’ Pride jersey earlier this week.

The actual risk to Russian players has been debated, though.

“We take all risks seriously, and this one is no different,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic last week. “Having said that, we have no information that would suggest there is any material threat that would exist [in Russia or otherwise] related to a Russian player participating in a club’s Pride activities.”

But this hasn’t been just a Russian issue. Three Canadian players — James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks, as well as Eric and Marc Staal from the Florida Panthers — all chose not to wear their teams’ Pride jerseys, citing religious reasons. Conversely, many Russian players around the league have worn the Pride jersey issued by their team.

“To our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, don’t be discouraged,” Brian Burke said Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. “We’ve had a couple of minor setbacks from a tiny number of players, but we’ve made steady and spectacular progress in this space.”

Burke has been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQ+ community and criticized players that used their religion as an excuse to not wear Pride jerseys.

“With the religious reasons, it just doesn’t compute for me,” Burke said. “I was born and raised a Catholic. I don’t see any conflict between my religious beliefs and the ability to say to the LGBTQ+ community you’re welcome here.”

“It’s about saying this community is valuable and important and we want to honour them.”

Pride Night jerseys didn’t appear to be an issue in the NHL prior to this season. Canucks players have worn Pride-themed jerseys in warmups since 2017.

There was some doubt if the Canucks would wear their Pride Night jersey this year, given the organization’s non-answer to the question last week. The Canucks unveiled the 2023 Pride Night jersey on Wednesday and also have a full schedule of events to celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

“I think that everyone in this room is looking forward to [Pride Night],” Quinn Hughes said Wednesday. “I know in our organization, everyone is welcomed. Every time we’ve done a Pride Night, I’ve worn the jersey.”

“I think it’s a great night, and I’m glad we’re doing it.”

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