EDMONTON, AB – Before playoff hockey returned to its usual intensity, the NHL and its players took time Saturday to highlight racial injustice and the sport's role in confronting it.
Players pushed to postpone two days worth of games to protest the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which came three months after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. More than 48 hours of reflection culminated with a pregame presentation in Toronto before the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins faced off.
Retired goaltender Kevin Weekes narrated a video montage on the subject that included clips by fellow minority players Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild and Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“In hockey, we often let our effort, determination and passion to win do the talking,” Weekes said. “But when an issue is bigger than the game, we must speak out, starting with three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black Lives Matter. Equality is the only way forward. As players, as fans and as average citizens, we most confront these issues.”
On the ice, the Lightning and Bruins didn't miss a beat in their hard-fought series. Away from it, players and coaches in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles got an opportunity to weigh in on matters of racism and police brutality that caused games to be postponed in the NBA, Major League Baseball and other pro sports leagues.
“The decision to postpone our games and sit out was viewed as an opportunity to highlight a bigger issue than hockey,” said Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was at the forefront of player dialogue in the past few days. “We wanted to make sure that every Black player in this league can feel safe and feel like they have a voice. And we want to make sure that we continue this conversation moving forward and make sure that we keep the sport progressing in the right way.”
Conversations went on among opposing players in each of the Canadian cities hosting games. Reaves and Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat are no fans of each other during games, but their discussion about how to protest played a major role in hockey following the NBA's lead.
“What we did was the best thing for not only our two teams but I think for the NHL, and we stand by it,” Horvat said. “We obviously know it’s not going to change what’s going on in the world, but it’s going to get people talking and I think that’s the most important thing.”