It’s one of the most talked about stories in the NHL this season and it has absolutely nothing to do with the action on the ice.
On Tuesday night, Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov opted to sit out the team’s pre-game skate against the Ducks because the Flyers were celebrating their annual Pride night in celebration and support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Provorov said his Russian Orthodox religion was the reason he didn’t participate in the show of support, which included wearing what appeared to black Flyers’ practice jerseys with rainbow numbers and nameplates. Some players also used rainbow-coloured stick tape.
For context, the Russian Orthodox church doesn’t perform or even recognize same-sex marriage.
Provorov did suit up for the game, which was also technically part of the team’s annual Pride night. He played 22 minutes and change in a 5-2 victory.
“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said following the victory. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Flyers coach John Tortorella defended Provorov’s decision Tuesday and then doubled down on them at Thursday’s morning’s meeting with the media. “Provie did nothing wrong,” Tortorella said. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.” The coach’s full remarks on Provorov are here at the 3:24 mark.
Some of Provorov’s teammates, like James van Riemsdyk, have been strong supporters of the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia.
“I think ultimately I’d like to look at the positives from the night,” van Riemsdyk said. “We were able to host a few different groups and meet with them after the game. I think that’s where I’d like to keep the focus on, about the good things that happened.”
The NHL issued a statement, supporting Provorov’s freedom to make the decision he did:
“Hockey is for Everyone” is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans. Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how – with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.
It might be interesting to see the league’s reaction if a player skipped out on official team celebrations that honoured other communities. For example, what if a player refused to wear a camouflage jersey and skipped the pre-game skate on Military Appreciation Night? What if a team honoured Willie O’ Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL, and a player refused to wear O’ Ree’s jersey in the pre-game skate? Would things be handled the same way the Flyers and the league handled Pride Night in Philly?
Bayne Pettinger is an NHL player agent who is openly gay and told the CBC he was disappointed by Provorov’s decision.
“I get asked all the time, ‘When is an NHL player going to come out?’ Pettinger said. “And you see something like Tuesday night… that’s not a safe environment to do that yet,” he said.
Provorov is seen around the league as a player that might be available at the trade deadline. No matter where you stand on this issue, Tuesday’s decision definitely didn’t help his trade value.
By Steve Warne