Provorov’s Pride protest a black eye for NHL
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TORONTO — The NHL suffered another black eye to its brand this week, when Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov opted not to participate in a pre-game warmup that involved players wearing Pride-theme jerseys, along with rainbow Pride stick tape, in celebration and support of the LGBTTQ+ community Tuesday night.
Provorov, who ended his boycott just in time to play the game and went on to lead the Flyers in ice time, cited his Russian Orthodox religion and his desire to “stay true to myself” for why he decided to stay in the locker room while the rest of his teammates took part in the planned event. He was given the full support of Flyers head coach John Tortorella, who referred to the defenceman by his nickname, Provy, before adding that he respected him for standing up for his beliefs.
Predictably, the fallout went well beyond the Flyers locker room. The team issued a statement prior to the game ending and the NHL followed suit. The You Can Play Project, which is aimed at ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation, and is championed by the NHL, also made its feelings known.
On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets were asked to share their thoughts on what transpired, with veteran forward Sam Gagner and head coach Rick Bowness sharing their thoughts.
“My stance on it is that I think you want to be inclusive to everybody, allow everyone to feel they’re part of our game and they have a place in our game,” said Gagner. “I can’t speak for him. That’s my feeling on it. We’ve taken part in a lot of Pride Nights as a group. It’s something I’m personally proud to be part of. That’s my feeling on it.”
The Jets have put on Pride-themed games in the past and have another later this year, on April 5 against the Calgary Flames.
“I see the comments. But listen, I don’t like when other organizations talk about our players, or our organization,” said Bowness. “For me, that’s a situation that the player and organization are dealing with. I’m not there, I’m not part of it. I don’t like when other organizations talk about our players, or our organization. We deal with it.”
The Provorov situation shows that while hockey is a team sport, it’s still made up of individuals, each with their own belief system and opinions. Bowness was asked about the potential of having someone’s religion or opinion challenge that of others and how a team coexists despite not necessarily feeling the same way about societal issues.
That’s part of being a coach and being part of a team,” he said. “That all comes with it. That’s what it is.”
Leading without a letter
With the Jets in hockey-mad Toronto, several local reporters were in attendance at the Jets practice Wednesday. One of the topics brought up was the team’s shift in leadership, notably the fact Blake Wheeler is no longer the club’s captain.
When asked why he stripped Wheeler of the C, Bowness took exception with the language used, before crediting Wheeler for how he’s handled the move and for his character on and off the ice.
“Stripped is a very strong word. We had a discussion and we decided to remove it,” said Bowness. “Blake responded like we figured he would. He’s a pro, man. He’s been around a long time. It’s not the first time in the NHL a player has (been) removed of the captaincy. If it had been the first, that’s another discussion. “We knew he would continue to lead the way that he leads. That wasn’t why we changed. If you’re a leader in our league, you don’t need an A or C to lead. You’re going to be a leader the way you lead. That hasn’t changed, nor did we expect it to change and that was part of our discussion. He’s a true pro, he’s been around a long time, and he wants to win. No matter what.”
Wheeler has performed well this season. He’s currently fifth on the team in scoring, with 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in 36 games. The Jets are currently without a captain, with Josh Morrissey, Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry the alternates.
Kyle Connor scored his 200th NHL goal in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night. He’s the ninth NHLer in the past 20 years to score 200 goals in their first 430 career games and one of only six active players, a list that includes the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.
“It was pretty cool to hit those milestones. You never dream in your wildest dreams that you’d be in the NHL and be scoring 200,” Connor said after the game. “It’s pretty cool. I’m sure I’ll look back on it at the end of the year like I always do. Move onto the next one and move on to the next game.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.