In a player-led movement, the NHL on Thursday postponed its playoff games scheduled for that night and tonight, joining other teams and leagues in North America in taking action to protest racial injustice in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting.
“After much discussion, NHL players believe that the best course of action would be to take a step back and not play tonight’s and tomorrow’s games as scheduled,” said a joint statement released by the league and the NHL Players Association. “Black and brown communities continue to face real, painful experiences. The NHL and NHLPA recognize that much work remains to be done before we can play an appropriate role in a discussion centered on diversity, inclusion and social justice.”
The league said it would reschedule the four games that were affected, including Game 4 of the Lightning’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bruins that was scheduled for tonight. The rescheduled games were to begin Saturday. The NHL hadn’t released a schedule late Thursday.
“(Thursday), I think, unified us to realize that any Black player in this league, any Black player who’s a kid coming up playing hockey, can feel like they have a voice, can feel the NHL is a safe place,” said Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is white, representing the team in a video news conference with other players in the Toronto bubble after the announcement.
“In a predominately white sport, they feel alienated, and they have the support of every single one of us.”
Lightning wing Mathieu Joseph, the only Black player on the roster, wrote on Twitter, “I am honored to be part of this brotherhood. To all my teammates and fellow players. Today we took significant action in hopes for a better tomorrow. Extremely proud.”
The Lightning released a statement Thursday night saying they stand in solidarity with their players and the postponement “in order to advance the conversation on racial injustice and systemic racism.”
“These issues that plague our society only serve to divide us and are far bigger than sports. We encourage the community to stand alongside us and continue to demand change and equality for all,” the statement said.
On Wednesday, teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLS and major-league baseball chose to sit out games in protest over racial inequality and police brutality in the wake of the shooting of Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday.
All three of the NHL’s Wednesday games, including Game 3 of the Lightning’s series against the Bruins, were played as scheduled in the league’s bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. The first, in Toronto, was underway when the movement to sit out games in protest began most prominently with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks for their game against the Magic in the NBA bubble at Disney World.
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The Hockey Diversity Alliance, formed in June, pressed the issue Thursday in publicly asking the NHL to postpone play by saying: “We strongly feel this sends a clear message that human rights take priority over sports.”
The alliance is made up of nine current and former players of color, including current Sharks forward Evander Kane and Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. Operating independently from the league, its goal is to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
Shattenkirk said players in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles spoke Thursday, and Golden Knights wing Ryan Reaves, a Black Canadian, shared his perspective. Flyers wing James van Riemsdyk, who is white, spoke about him and his teammates reaching out to Chris Stewart, a former teammate and member of the alliance.
“We wanted to reach out to him as someone who has been involved in some of these other conversations that are being had,” van Riemsdyk said. “We want to do the right thing, and (we’re) looking for things we can do to show support and be a part of this.”
Canada’s TSN TV network reported that over 100 players from the eight teams still in the bubbles participated in a call with Kane and Dumba on Thursday.
Previously, Kane, a Black Canadian, and Dumba, a Canadian of Filipino descent, had expressed disappointment with the NHL’s response to play Wednesday.
“The NHL is always late to the party, especially on these topics, so it’s sort of sad and disheartening for me and other members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and I’m sure other guys across the league,” Dumba, said Wednesday on a Vancouver radio station.
“But if no one stands up and does anything, it’s the same thing. It’s just that silence that you’re just outside looking in on actually being leaders and invoking real change when you have such an opportunity to do so.”
Shattenkirk and Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday after their game that they were too far into and focused on game preparation to be fully aware of what was happening in other leagues.
“I don’t think anything feels right right now, to be honest,” Cooper said when asked Thursday morning if it felt right to have played the night before. “These events are happening, and it’s just taking some time to digest. So it’s hard for me to answer that right now.
“What I said (Wednesday) night, one night of sleep is not enough to sit and digest. I know it’s just communicating with our team and being open about what is going on. I think that is a good first step for us in moving forward.”