Members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance asked the NHL to postpone its two second-round playoff games on Thursday in response to Jacob Blake being shot by police in Wisconsin.
San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane announced the request on his Twitter account.
“We strongly feel this sends a clear message that human rights take priority over sports,” Kane wrote on behalf of the alliance, which is made up of current and former players.
Two Game 3s were on the schedule, with the Philadelphia Flyers facing the New York Islanders in Toronto and the Vegas Golden Knights playing the Vancouver Canucks in Edmonton, Alberta.
Blake, who is Black, was shot in the back seven times Sunday by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The incident sparked protests, including some that spread to sports earlier this week. The NHL faced criticism from Kane, who is Black, and others in allowing its playoff games to continue after several other pro sports leagues, starting with the NBA, postponed games or had players sit out on Wednesday night.
The NHL has not commented. The NHL Players’ Association is continuing discussions with its members and also with the NHL on how to respond, according to a person with direct knowledge of talks who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he was preparing to play, while noting his players had numerous discussions on how to raise their voices against racial injustice.
“They understand the importance of the playoffs, but they also understand where the world is right now and what happened yesterday,” he said. “As you digest it, I think what happened last night is a great statement for the athletes.”
Trotz, however, believed the best course forward was to continue playing, because the games provide players a platform.
“By you talking to me about it, to the players about it, it’s giving them a platform, it’s giving them air-time,” Trotz said. “You want to keep the issue in the forefront.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said he was focused solely on hockey.
“I really have no idea what’s going on in the outside world. We’re in this bubble right now,” Vigneault said. “I’m invested 24-7 on our team. ... I guess I’m a hockey nerd, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Vigneault said he is aware of the NHL’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and sees the signage inside the arena.
“We’re all for equality and social justice,” he said.
“But right now, I think what we’re trying to do is play a game. And I think players and management and coaches are really focused on that,” Vigneault added. “This is the most important time of the year for us. It’s playoff hockey.”
Minnesota forward and founding alliance member Matt Dumba, criticized the NHL for going ahead with games.
“The NHL, we’re always last to the party, especially on these topics,” Dumba said Wednesday on Vancouver’s Sportsnet 650. “It’s kind of sad and disheartening for me and for other members of the HDA and I’m sure other guys across the league. If no one stands up and does anything, it’s the same thing. It’s that silence that you’re just outside looking in on actually being leaders and invoking real change when you have such an opportunity to do so.”
Dallas Stars forward Jason Dickinson called the debate over whether to play a difficult decision following the team’s 6-4 loss to Colorado on Wednesday night.
“Does not playing solve things? No. But it brings attention to it,” Dickinson said before noting a majority of hockey players are not Americans as opposed to their NBA counterparts.
“I think it’s difficult to kind of appreciate things as outsiders to America,” said Dickinson, who is Canadian. “But you know, we try to give our two cents where we can. And you know what, tonight just didn’t seem like (not playing) was the right call to do.”
The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, who don’t play until Friday, did not make players available during their video conference calls.