VANCOUVER (AP) — Canucks winger Andrei Kuzmenko, who is from Russia, will not wear an LGBTQ+-theme warm-up jersey Friday when Vancouver holds its annual Pride night.
Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said that Kuzmenko had discussions with his family and then informed the team of his decision.
“I’m not going to get into it because we don’t know the deals that happen over there,” Tocchet said. “So I respect his decision.”
Kuzmenko, 27, has become a fan favorite in his first NHL season and leads the Canucks in goals with 37.
Some of his teammates have publicly committed to wearing the jerseys, which were designed by local artist Christin Hryc and features a rainbow and flowers across the Canucks’ orca logo and rainbow patches on the shoulders.
“I think everyone in this room is looking forward to it,” defenseman Quinn Hughes said Wednesday. “And I know in our organization, everyone’s welcome. Every time we’ve done Pride night, I’ve worn the jersey and celebrated the night.”
Star center Elias Pettersson said Friday that he, too, is in support of the annual event.
“I think it’s important to show that everyone is welcome here,” he said. “And I’ll wear the jersey tonight.”
Vancouver has a number of other initiatives planned for Friday, including a drag show outside Rogers Arena and in-game performances. A $20,000 donation is also being made to QMUNITY, a Vancouver non-profit that supports LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
Kuzmenko joins five other NHL players who’ve declined to wear Pride jerseys this season. Some have cited their faith and another cited an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia. Also, the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks opted not to have players wear special Pride-themed jerseys at all this year.
Whether a player wears the themed jersey comes down to individual rights, new NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said this week, adding that the league will likely have more conversations about the issue moving forward.
“But I think it’s really important that as a league and as locker rooms, we’re inclusive and that we support all people’s right to support the game,” Walsh said.
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