The Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders took part prior to Eastern Conference Second Round games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, and the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks did so prior to the Western Conference game at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Before the playing of the Canada and United States national anthems at Game 4 between the Lightning and Bruins, a video was played highlighting the need for progress in hockey and society, including the phrase, “Equality is the only way forward.” Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk then appeared in a pretaped message.
“I think for us, the decision to postpone our games and sit out (Thursday and Friday) was viewed as an opportunity to highlight a bigger issue than hockey,” Shattenkirk said. “We wanted to make sure that every Black player in this league can feel safe and can feel like they have a voice. We want to make sure we continue this conversation moving forward, and make sure we keep the sport progressing in the right way as well.”
It was followed by similar videos from Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“It was amazing to see everyone coming together and realizing this is bigger than sports,” Bergeron said. “It’s about human rights. It’s about supporting our Black players, being there for them and realizing there needs to be change. We want to be a part of that change going forward. So this is just the beginning. Obviously, we know that there needs to be reflection and discussions, and conversations, but there also needs to be actions. We want to be there for that.”
The game was the first since players on the eight remaining teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs decided not to play Thursday and Friday as a protest against systemic racism and police brutality. It was scheduled for Friday.
“Obviously, a time of reflection for the League,” Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said after the game, a 3-1 loss. “For us, it was, obviously, there’s bigger things than hockey. That’s probably one of the things that’s been focused on the most here, and even from the start of the playoffs. We just wanted to make a stand and show our support. It’s one of those things that, yesterday, obviously there’s been lots of different things. I mean, back-to-backs and playoffs, and you can name it. But obviously, it’s real-world stuff like that that kind of affects everything and definitely hits home.”
Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk and Islanders defenseman Ryan Puolock appeared in a video prior to Game 3 of that series.
“It’s been good to see the players come together and have discussions over the last few days and educate themselves on issues much bigger than the sport of hockey,” van Riemsdyk said. “As far as postponing the games, we felt it was the thing for us to do to stand in solidity and support the black players in our league and also start a conversion about these issues going on and hopefully lead to action and some change going forward.”
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves and Canucks forward Bo Horvat spoke on video prior to Game 3 of that series.
“Over the last two days, a predominantly white sport decided to take two days off, step aside from the game to talk about Black issues around North America,” Reaves said. “For those athletes to step aside and say, ‘I haven’t walked a mile in your shoes, I don’t know what your people go through on a daily basis, but we see the problem and we stand behind you,’ is a very impactful, strong statement.”
During a conference call Friday, Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn respectfully declined to answer a hockey-related question, citing a desire to focus on the social issues at hand. Coburn was with defenseman Luke Schenn, who said excitement following a 7-1 win in Game 3 was dull on Wednesday.
“After most playoff games, you get a win, everyone’s high-fiving and celebrating,” Schenn said in Toronto, the East hub city. “After the last game, it wasn’t like that at all. We came into the room and we were made aware of what was going on. The conversation quickly shifted. Obviously, you’re in the middle of a playoff series, but there’s kind of more that’s happened outside of the game itself.”
Following that win, the Lightning were informed NBA players had boycotted playoff games Wednesday after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, at least seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Players from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the WNBA also boycotted games, and several NFL practices have been cancelled, the past three days.
Shattenkirk and Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara joined New York Islanders forward Anders Lee and van Riemsdyk to represent the Eastern Conference for a press conference Thursday regarding the decision to postpone games.
“It’s obviously a little bit different going into today’s game,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said Saturday. “The last 48 hours, the conversations we’ve had within our team and within the whole bubble, interacting with other teams, it’s been about anything but hockey. Today was a different day. But we’re happy to be back playing. Goes to show what a team can do when you really come together as a group. We’re obviously very happy with the way the game ended, but I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit of a different feeling, obviously, going into the game today.”
In Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, Reaves, Horvat, Colorado Avalanche centers Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Nazem Kadri, and Dallas Stars forward Jason Dickinson held a press conference at the same time Thursday. They were flanked by peers, representing each of the four remaining Western teams.
“We’re not being political,” Marchand said Friday. “That’s not the goal, and that’s not what we’re here for. There needs to be changes made throughout society. It’s bigger than hockey right now. It’s bigger than sports. It’s about people being equal and being the same and being treated the same.”