"I think that everyone in this room is looking forward to it," said Quinn Hughes about the Vancouver Canucks' Pride Night on Friday.
Evidently, that wasn't quite true. After Friday's gameday skate, Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said that one player won't be warming up in the team's Pride jersey: Andrei Kuzmenko.
"Everybody but Kuzy, I think," said Tocchet when asked if everyone would be wearing the jersey. "And that's just a choice — family — and I'm not going to get into it because we don't know the deal that happens over there, so I respect his decision."
"Over there" would, of course, refer to Kuzmenko's home country of Russia, which has enacted several homophobic laws, including a ban on LGBTQ+ "propaganda" that has evidently concerned several Russian players. While some teams and players have opted out of wearing Pride Night jerseys because of this law, other Russians have worn Pride jerseys with no apparent repercussions.
The law, to be clear, does not involve any actual criminal charges but can levy a fine of up to $6,400 against citizens. There is no evidence that any Russian players have been fined for wearing Pride jerseys nor that wearing a Pride jersey would even register as a violation of the law, which is aimed at spreading "propaganda" through the media.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic’s Scott Powers via email, “we have no information that would suggest there is any material threat that would exist (in Russia or otherwise) related to a Russian player participating in a club’s Pride activities.”
The purpose of wearing a Pride jersey is to let LGBTQ+ people — whether fans, players, or team staff — know that they are welcome in hockey, a sport that has frequently been antagonistic towards LGBTQ+ people. To date, there has yet to be an openly gay or bi player in the NHL.
Without hearing directly from Kuzmenko, it's hard to know his exact reasoning for opting out of wearing a Pride jersey. Tocchet implied family reasons, which is unclear. It's also hard to know how a Russian player may assess dangers to himself and his family beyond the repercussions of the laws in Russia.
The Canucks have not released an official statement regarding Kuzmenko but have instead focused on sharing messages of support for Pride Night and the LGBTQ+ community from other players on the Canucks.
March 31 is also International Transgender Day of Visibility, which celebrates trans people and raises awareness of discrimination faced by trans people around the world. According to Vice, more than 350 anti-trans bills have been introduced across 36 states in the U.S. this legislative season.