Vancouver Canucks forward Andrei Kuzmenko became the latest NHL player to opt out of his team’s Pride Night festivities.
Kuzmenko decided not to wear a Pride-themed warmup jersey prior to Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames. Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said Kuzmenko’s decision was made in consultation with his family.
The Russian winger is sixth NHL player to decline wearing a jersey, joining Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and Florida Panthers teammates Eric and Marc Staal.
Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist Christina Hync designed the Pride-themed jerseys. The jerseys will feature a rainbow and flowers on the Canucks’ designated orca logo. In addition, the Canucks will make a $20,000 donation on behalf of the Canucks for Kids Fund to QMUNITY, a Vancouver-based non-profit that supports 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. Ahead of Friday’s game, the Canucks will be hosting a Pride-themed party.
“The opportunity to celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is very important to our entire organization,” Canucks president Michael Doyle said in a team-issued statement. “Pride night and all the incredible activities that highlight this evening, is special for a number of reasons. Besides raising awareness and understanding, it also lets our fan base know that everyone is welcome here at Rogers Arena. Our club believes strongly in diversity and inclusion, and we look forward to celebrating these core values with our community.”
During his introductory press conference Thursday, NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said he believes in an individual’s right to wear a Pride-themed jersey or not.
“I think it’s people’s individual rights if they want to wear a jersey,” Walsh said. “It’s a warmup jersey before the game skate. I don’t think the LGBTQ+ community should feel that NHL players are turning their back on that community. The majority of the players have worn the jersey. A super majority of the players have worn the jersey.
NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs Kim Davis told Yahoo Sports in January that the league would not consider punitive action for players and teams that opt out of their Pride events following Provorov’s decision to boycott the Flyers’ Pride-themed warmup jerseys.
“I don’t personally agree with that. I think you make far more progress in any kind of change effort by educating people and allowing them to come to a change process through their own desires,” Davis said to Yahoo Sports. “That’s my own personal belief system in change. I’ve seen it be far more effective than a punitive approach.
“People have far more stake in things when they can bring themselves to it through their own volition. That’s not the approach I support in the change effort. That’s how I would be thinking of it.”
Kuzmenko has become a fan favorite in Vancouver this season for both his play on the ice and his personality off it. The 27-year-old leads the team with 38 goals and is fourth with 68 points in his first NHL season after coming over from the KHL and signing a one-year deal with the Canucks last summer. Vancouver rewarded Kuzmenko for his play, inking him to a two-year, $11-million contract extension in January.