At least one Canucks player won’t be wearing a themed warm-up jersey when Vancouver holds its annual Pride night on Friday.
Coach Rick Tocchet said that Russian winger Andrei Kuzmenko has opted not to don the special uniform ahead of the home game against the Calgary Flames, after discussions with his family.
“I’m not going to get into it because we don’t know the deals that happen over there. So I respect his decision,” Tocchet said.
Kuzmenko, 27, has become a fan favourite in his first NHL season, with his wide 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 committed to wearing the jerseys, designed by local artist Christin Hryc. The main crest features a rainbow and flowers across the Canucks’ orca logo, and rainbow patches on the shoulders.
“I think everyone in this room is looking forward to it,” defenceman Quinn Hughes said Wednesday. “And I know in our organization, everyone’s welcome.
“Every time we’ve done Pride night, I’ve worn the jersey and celebrated the night.”
Star centre Elias Pettersson said Friday that he, too, is in support of the annual event.
“I think it’s important to show that everyone is welcome here,” he said. “And I’ll wear the jersey tonight.”
Vancouver has a number of other initiatives planned for Friday, including a pre-game drag show outside Rogers Arena and in-game performances. A $20,000 donation is also being made to QMUNITY, a Vancouver non-profit that supports LGBTQ people and their allies.
Kuzmenko joins a handful of NHL players who’ve declined to wear Pride jerseys this season, including Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer, Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres blue liner Ilya Lyubushkin.
Lyubushkin cited an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia for electing not to participate in the Sabres’ pregame warmup on the team’s Pride night.
Whether a player wears the themed jersey comes down to individual rights, new NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said in Toronto on Thursday.
“The LGBTQ community shouldn’t feel that the NHL hockey players are turning their back on that community. The majority of the players have worn 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 moving forward.
“But I think it’s really important that as a league and as locker rooms, we’re inclusive and that we support all people’s right to support the game,” Walsh said.