Will Russia's anti-gay laws cause Canucks to alter Pride Night plans?

Mar 21 2023, 9:00 pm

The Vancouver Canucks have celebrated Pride with more enthusiasm than most other NHL teams.

Manny Malhotra marched in Vancouver’s summer Pride Parade a decade ago when he was a member of the organization, and other players have followed suit since.

The Canucks first introduced rainbow-coloured numbers and letters on their jersey for warmup in 2017. The team took its warmup look to the next level last season, hiring a queer artist to redesign the Canucks’ orca logo.

Given the Canucks have had much success with special warmup jerseys for many of their theme nights this season, one would assume the team will once again show off another special jersey for Pride Night. The Canucks are scheduled to celebrate Pride next week when they play the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on Friday, March 31.

But Pride Nights haven’t been so straightforward in other NHL markets this season.

Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov made headlines when he refused to wear Philadelphia’s Pride jersey in warmup on January 17. The 26-year-old cited his (Russian Orthodox) religious beliefs, so he sat out warmup but played in the game.

Vladimir Putin expanded a ban on so-called LGBTQ “propaganda” in Russia back in December, making it illegal to “promote same-sex relationships or suggest that non-heterosexual orientations are ‘normal,'” according to CNN.

That may have sparked fears among Russian NHL players, who return to their home country in the summer and could face retribution.

The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, which each have star players from Russia on their rosters, both decided to scrap plans to wear Pride jerseys this season.

Experts that The Athletic spoke to said that this is “probably not an idle threat” by Russia, and these are “legitimate fears” for Russians returning home.

The Canucks have four Russian-born players on their team, though Ilya Mikheyev is injured. Vasily Podkolzin was in the lineup for Pride Night last season and wore the special jersey. Likewise for Vitali Kravtsov when he was a member of the New York Rangers in 2020-21. Andrei Kuzmenko is playing in his first NHL season.

Will the Canucks’ Pride Night be affected by recent events?

“We have been working on many different elements for that night and will be releasing that information closer to the date, like we do for all of our theme nights,” a Canucks spokesperson told Daily Hive when asked if the team plans to wear a special Pride jersey again this season. The team released its Pride jersey four days in advance of Pride Night last season.

“We have had a long and proud history of hosting Pride events and we look forward to another incredible evening on March 31st to raise awareness and support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

James Reimer recently proved that refusal to wear rainbow-coloured jerseys isn’t just an issue with Russian players. The Manitoba-born goalie refused to wear the San Jose Sharks’ Pride Night jersey on Saturday, saying it had to do with his Christian faith. He didn’t join his teammates on the ice for warmup, but suited up for the game, as San Jose’s backup.

Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke was among the people that criticized Reimer for it. The Penguins held Pride Night on December 12, and Evgeni Malkin was among the players who wore a special warmup jersey.

“I am extremely disappointed,” Burke said this weekend, via the Sharks broadcast on NBC. “I wish players would understand that the Pride sweaters are about inclusion and welcoming everybody. A player wearing Pride colours or tape isn’t endorsing a set of values or enlisting in a cause! It is saying you are welcome here. And you are, in every single NHL building.”

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