Players catalysts for NHL’s postponement of playoff games
A relatively miniscule number of NHL players are Black or of color.
Of more than 700 players, there are generally 20-30 non-white athletes on NHL rosters at any given time during the regular season.
But that did not stop the league’s players from taking action after Jacob Blake, an African American, was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wis., last week.
The killing came on the heels of George Floyd being killed in Minneapolis when a police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes; the killing of Breonna Taylor in her home when Louisville police executed a no-knock warrant searching for a drug suspect who was not at the house, and the shooting death in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of a white retired detective and his son, who thought Arbery was a suspect for a break-in on their block.
After scheduled playoff games were played on Wednesday night, when NBA playoff games and WNBA and some Major League Baseball contests were postponed because players voted not to play in order to make a stand for racial justice, NHL players were the deciding factor in postponing Stanley Cup Playoff games on Thursday and Friday for the same reason.
Game 3 of the Philadelphia Flyers-New York Islanders Eastern Conference Second Round series in Toronto and Game 3 of the Vegas Golden Knights-Vancouver Canucks Western Conference Second Round series in Edmonton were postponed Thursday, and Friday it was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins in Toronto and Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.
"I think if you look around this room, there's a lot of white athletes in here, and I think that's the statement that's being made right now," said the Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves, who is Black, on Thursday.
As Reaves spoke, he was flanked by the Avalanche’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – a Black player who was born in France – and Nazim Kadri, who is of Lebanese descent on one side, and by Jason Dickinson of the Dallas Stars and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks on the other side.
Behind them stood all the members of the four Western Conference teams remaining in the playoffs.
"It's great that the NBA did this and the MLB and the WNBA. They have a lot of Black players in those leagues. But for all these athletes in here just to take a stand and say, 'You know what? We see the problem too and we stand behind you,’ ” Reaves continued. “I'd go to war with these guys. I hate their guts on the ice, but I couldn't be more proud of these guys. This statement that they've made today is something that's going to last."
In fact, it was a text to Reaves on Thursday morning by his former St. Louis Blues teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, who now plays with the Lightning, that began to turn something that Reaves had been wrestling with in his own mind since Wednesday into the eventual action by the players. Shattenkirk’s text read that a bunch of the players in the Eastern Conference wanted to talk.
Then Reaves got a text telling him Vancouver players wanted to talk too.
"The conversation started with white players on other teams wanting to talk," Reaves said. "I think that's the most powerful thing that happened today, and now you see us all coming together, all opponents here."
Shattenkirk, the Islanders’ Andres Lee, the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara and the Flyers’ James Van Riemsdyk spoke during an Eastern Conference press conference on Thursday.
A joint statement from the NHL Players Association and the NHL released on Thursday read:
"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. The NHL supports the players' decision and will reschedule those four games beginning Saturday and adjust the remainder of the Second Round schedule accordingly."
Play was scheduled to resume Saturday.
"I think this is a big enough statement just all these guys sticking together," Kadri said on Thursday. "I've got so much more respect for every single player in this league by doing something like this, and obviously systemic racism, we can use these next couple days to further educate ourselves for the betterment of society. It's something that needed to be done, and I think hockey is a team sport and team game and every single one of these guys are on the same page and stand with each other."
Veteran Buffalo Sabre Wayne Simmonds, who is Black, thought the NHL should have postponed games on Wednesday. Simmonds is a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance – along with the Red Wings’ Trevor Daley, among others – which formally requested the NHL postpone games on Wednesday.
“First and foremost, I think, we were disappointed with how the NHL responded,” Simmonds told www.nbcsports.com before the games were postponed on Thursday. “We were the only league not to postpone or cancel games yesterday, which I think is a shame.”
Several NFL teams canceled their practices for the same reason this week, including the Detroit Lions (Tuesday), who were the first major professional sports team to cancel or postpone any team activity after Blake’s shooting.