Flyers coach Tortorella defends Provorov’s Pride boycott

Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
3 Comments

PHILADELPHIA – Flyers coach John Tortorella defended Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov‘s decision to cite religious beliefs as his reason to boycott the team’s pregame Pride celebration.

“Provy did nothing wrong,” Tortorella said Thursday. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

Before Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, the 26-year-old Provorov sat out warmups, during which the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow tape.

Provorov is Russian Orthodox, and said after the game that he respected ” everybody’s choices.”

“My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say,” he said, declining to answer follow-up questions.

Tortorella said had “very healthy” conversations with Provorov, general manager Chuck Fletcher and select players days ahead of the game. Provorov’s decision was not a surprise to the organization.

The first-year Flyers coach also said he never considered benching Provorov.

“Why would I bench him? Because of a decision he’s making on his beliefs and his religion?” Tortorella said. “It turned out to be a great night for Pride night.”

The Flyers, led by players James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton, have been staunch supporters of the LGBTQ community and launched a program in support of LGBTQ youth in the greater Philadelphia area. The Flyers also hosted a pregame skate for local LGBTQ youth, and Laughton and van Riemsdyk met after the game with about 50 people from the community.

“I don’t hold anything against anyone,” Laughton said Tuesday. “It’s nothing like that. It was an awesome night and I’m very happy we got a win on a night like this.”

Tortorella dismissed criticisms that Provorov’s actions “embarrassed the organization,” saying, “I don’t look it at like that all.”

Tortorella has coached five NHL teams and drew comparisons to his own controversy in 2016 in Columbus, when he threatened to bench any player that protested or took a knee during the national anthem. His comments came in the wake of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit or kneel during the anthem because he said the country “oppresses Black people and people of color.”

Tortorella has since said, and reiterated Thursday, he was wrong.

“I learned a lot through that experience,” Tortorella said. “My feelings toward any time of protest to the flag during the anthem, it disgusts me, to this day. It disgusts me. It shouldn’t be done. Those are my feelings. I can’t push those feelings on to someone else. So I was wrong in saying that back then. I didn’t realize I was.

“But I was went through it all, who am I to push my feelings on to someone else. Same situation here.”

The Russian Orthodox Church, like other major Eastern Orthodox branches, doesn’t perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has been supportive of moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to implement anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The NHL also champions the You Can Play Project, which aims to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. The NHL has never had an openly gay active player. You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts said in a statement that “religion and support for fans and teammates aren’t mutually exclusive.”

The NHL said that clubs “decide whom to celebrate, when and how” and that players “are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

Tortorella said Provorov knew “he was going to have some blow back.”

“Provy’s not out there banging a drum against Pride night,” he said. “He felt strongly with his beliefs and he stayed with it.”

The Flyers have only 19 wins but have won four of five headed into Thursday’s game against Chicago and are 8-2 since an overtime win Dec. 29 at San Jose.

Tortorella insisted the lingering affects of Pride night would not splinter the locker room.

“Not for a second,” Tortorella said. “The meeting at the end of the game, the 15, 20 minutes we spent together was very healthy. Really good process in a very important situation. To me, it bonds the team going through something like that. I’m not concerned about speculation of a team splitting up. Not a chance.”

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

Chase Agnello-Dean/Getty Images
0 Comments

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
1 Comment

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.