On Thursday evening players from the NHL’s eight remaining playoff teams spoke about their decision to not play games the next two days.
The players decided they would not be playing in solidarity with other professional athletes protests across the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and MLS following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The NHL and NHLPA issued a joint statement making clear it was the players determining that postponing games was the best course of action.
The Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will resume on Saturday.
During video conferences from the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, players from all eight teams spoke on the decision to not play. The Western Conference made a powerful statement as players from all four teams stood behind Nazem Kadri, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Reaves, Jason Dickinson, and Bo Horvat in support.
Reaves said he went to bed Wednesday night unsure whether to play Thursday night. He later woke up to a text message from Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk saying he wanted to talk.
He said he also received messages from members of the Canucks (Vegas’ Second Round opponent) wanting to do the same.
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“If you look around this room there’s a lot of white athletes in here,” said Reaves. “I think that’s the statement that’s being made right now. It’s great the NBA did this, the MLB, the WNBA, they have a lot of black players in those leagues, but for all these athletes in here to take a stand and say we see the problem too, and we stand behind you. I go to war with these guys and I hate their guts on the ice, but I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. The statement they’ve made today is something that’s going to last. These two days aren’t going to fix anything, but the conversation and the statement that has been made is very powerful, especially coming from this league.”
“I think the message coming from a predominantly white league has very strong impact when it’s coming from players like this,” added Reaves. “Most of these guys have never lived through some of the stuff black athletes have. They don’t go through those day to day things where they feel that racism, or their family has gone through it. For them to say look, we see what’s going on in society and we disagree with it and something has to change right now – that was my message – I said that standing together here, it’s more powerful than anything you can do.”
“We want every NHLer to become the face of this movement,” said Shattenkirk. “If a guy like [Matt] Dumba wants to protest and make a stand and act in a certain way to share his beliefs, I think we all as players believe he should have every opportunity to do that. As a group, we take a stand here. It certainly opens the door to that.”
Dumba, a defenseman for the Wild and a key member of the NHL’s Hockey Diversity Alliance, opened the Return to Play with an emotional speech against racism and then took a knee during the U.S. national anthem. That was followed two days later by members of the Dickinson and Stars teammate Tyler Seguin, along with Reaves and Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner taking a knee during both the U.S. and Canadian anthems.
The NHL received criticism for not acting on Wednesday and playing on as scheduled while the other leagues stopped.
Dickinson said with the timing of everything and the quick turnaround with games it was difficult to get the conversation started. He said they were able to do that on Thursday morning with Vegas and Vancouver taking the lead.
The other sentiment was that the time for words are over and it is time for action.
“It’s tough to do a whole lot in the bubble,” said Dickinson. “We can keep using our words and trying to get it out into the media, but it’s going to come down to our action once we’re out of here. We have to do more. We need to keep doing more and give back into communities to right the wrongs that have been going on. Until we follow it up with actions, it’s just words.
“Some things are bigger than sports,” said Kadri. “There comes a point where actions become bigger than words. It’s that time for action.”
“The main point is we’re all here, we’re aware of what needs to be stopped, and it’s a message to the NHL that we want to take a better step to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Bellemare. “It’s up to us after the bubble to make sure we work together.”