As the NHL heads into its playoff quarterfinals, all eight of the teams remaining had Pride Nights that basically went off without a hitch, while the teams with the most controversy were either eliminated or never made the playoffs.
The Pride Nights — designed to show support for LGBTQ fans in a league with no out gay players — went from being affirming events without much publicity to the latest battleground for culture wars, with some players citing religion and some Russian players blaming anti-gay laws in their home country for not wearing Pride warm-up jerseys. Some of these same players had worn Pride-themed jerseys in the past with no objection.
All eight remaining playoff teams had successful Pride nights with the only blemish coming with the Florida Panthers, who had two players — Eric and Marc Staal — cite their Christian beliefs in refusing to wear Pride warm-ups. But they were overshadowed by support from the other players and organization. “Everybody’s welcome in my locker room,” Matthew Tkachuk said, in a video posted on the Panthers’ official Twitter account.
The other seven teams had no visible controversy during their nights. Pride warm-ups were worn by the Vegas Golden Knights, Seattle Kraken, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and the Panthers. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers did not wear Pride warm-ups but still had successful Pride nights. The Leafs, for example, wore Pride decals on their in-game helmets.
When asked about the warm-up controversy on some teams, Zach Hyman of the Oilers didn’t equivocate.
“Everyone has their own opinions, but to me it’s an obvious no-brainer,” Hyman said. “If I was in that position, I’d wear one and it doesn’t go against any of my beliefs. On the contrary, I think it’s extremely important to be open and welcoming to that greater community because they’re a minority and they face a lot of persecution. ... to show we’re willing and ready to include in our game and our sport is extremely important to me.”
To those players opposed to wearing Pride warm-ups, Hyman said, “These people have their own personal beliefs, I just don’t agree with them.”
“Hockey really is for everyone,” Hyman told the Athletic in a separate interview. “I’ve got a bunch of gay friends. My best friend’s brother is gay. It’s just normal. It’s important to celebrate it and celebrate the entire community. Taping a stick [with Pride Tape] is the least we can do.”
Connor McDavid, the Oilers superstar and maybe the league’s best player, was excited for his team’s Pride Night.
“Here in Edmonton we strongly believe hockey is for everyone and we strongly support Pride Night. ... I feel very strongly that hockey needs to be inclusive — and include everybody,” McDavid said.
The worst offender in making Pride Nights divisive — the New York Rangers — were thankfully eliminated by the Devils in Game 7 on Monday night. The Rangers were one of three teams that promised their players would wear Pride warm-ups only to reverse course for reasons that made no sense (The other two were Minnesota, eliminated in the first round, and Chicago, which did not make the playoffs).
I won’t be naive to suggest that having a successful Pride Night is crucial to NHL playoff success. But it does mean that an LGBTQ fan can root for any of the eight remaining teams with abandoned.
Let’s celebrate some of the Pride Night images from the remaining teams: