While teams in other leagues decided to boycott in the fight against racial injustice Wednesday, the NHL played on.
With the Milwaukee Bucks taking the lead and refusing to play their NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., the dominos began to fall, leading to the postponement of all three NBA games scheduled for the day along with those in the WNBA and a handful in both Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.
And while there were calls for the NHL to follow suit — including from Sportsnet hockey analyst Kelly Hrudey — the NHL decided to go ahead with its schedule, so Game 3 of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars second-round series at Rogers Place went ahead.
“I hadn’t see that prior to coming to the rink that the NBA wasn’t playing, I wasn’t watching any TV or around on social media before the game,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar following his team’s 6-4 win. “I can’t comment on what everyone was thinking, but no players had come to me to said they were thinking of not playing or anything. It was kind of business as usual in our room.
“Now, having got the story from the NBA players not playing, I thought about it and if even one player had come to me and said, ‘hey I don’t think we should play,’ then we would have addressed it as a team. But I never got word from anyone from our room and the league had not said if the players were not thinking about playing. So it was just trying to stay focused and get to business as usual and for us that was the Dallas Stars, that was our task at hand.”
Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer Sunday as he was getting into the driver’s seat his SUV with three of his children in the vehicle. Blake was transported to hospital where he remains. There have been protest and demonstrations following the shooting in Kenosha, which is roughly 65 kilometres from Milwaukee.
“It’s obviously an important topic and something we need to think long and hard about as a country,” Bednar said. “But I think tonight maybe wasn’t the time or place for us.”
Returning to play in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer, which sparked protests worldwide, the NHL embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. Racial equality has been part of the league’s branding since returning to play following the pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Calling off games Wednesday, however, was something they were not prepared to do, particularly on such short notice.
“It crosses your mind when you see other league’s doing something like that,” said Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri, who is a member of the NHL’s Diversity Alliance. “We support and applaud the NBA for taking that stance in those circumstances. I understand this is a problem that has gone on for far too long. The signs and the hockey ops is great and everything, but eventually, words get stale and it’s about action and making a difference.”
The opening game of the day between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers had already commenced before the Bucks decided to take their stand, which took the NBA and their opponents by surprise. The Magic were already on the court warming up when informed the Bucks were not playing. However, the puck had not dropped on the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins or the Avalanche and Stars.
“I think there’s different ways to show your actions in what you support,” said Stars forward Tyler Seguin, who knelt during the national anthems with teammate Jason Dickinson alongside Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights in support of racial equality in their first game back from the pause. “I fully support what MLB and the NBA are doing, we just had the decision tonight to play the game and we look forward to show our actions more in the coming days.”
The NHL settled on a moment of reflection prior to the game between the Lightning and Bruins where they urged for an end to racism. Seguin said there weren’t any serious discussions with his teammates on not playing when the Stars arrived at Rogers Place for the game.
“To be honest, I woke up from my (pre-game) nap and didn’t really realize what the NBA was doing when I got to the rink,” Seguin said. “So there wasn’t much thought in my head today to think about not playing tonight. I support what’s going on, I support the movement and I think, honestly, hockey needs to do more, but I think we can all show our actions in different ways.”
NBA players had a meeting Wednesday to determine whether they want to continue their playoffs currently taking place at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Fla. There have been no such discussions in the NHL, which has two games scheduled for Thursday.
“It’s a difficult situation and there’s different ways where we can show support,” Dickinson said. “Does this not playing solve things? No, but it brings attention to it. What happened, it was kind of last second, we had woken up and we were already in game mode and it was one of those things that it’s hard to come together that close to game time and change our frame of mind.”
Although he now lives in the United States, Dickinson, an Ontario product, admits it may be difficult for NHL players to fully relate to the struggle blacks and other minorities face on a daily basis, even though they are sympathetic to it.
NBA analyst Kenny Smith walked off a live broadcast in support of the players, which showcased the pain and frustration many in the United States were feeling in the latest act of violence by law enforcement towards African Americans.
“I think the hardest thing to realize for this league and all of us in this situation, we come from all walks of life, we have guys from all over the country and it’s hard for some guys have this hit home,” he said. “I don’t want to say anybody is blind to it or ignorant, but we are a league of a lot of Canadians, a lot of Europeans and it’s hard when something like that doesn’t hit home. You look at MLB and you look at the NBA, and they’re primarily American players so it easy for it to hit home for them and it’s easy for them to take a stand against something.
“Seggy and I take a knee and we get backlash that we are not Americans and we shouldn’t be speaking out on something like this, but we believe we are close enough as Canadians that we have a right to say something and in Canada we have seen similar things.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest