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Vancouver Canucks winger Andrei Kuzmenko skips warm-up over Pride jersey

Vancouver Canucks forward Andrei Kuzmeko is the latest NHL player to become embroiled in the league’s Pride jersey controversy.

The Russian winger skipped warmups ahead of the Canucks’ annual Pride game against the Calgary Flames on Friday. His teammates took to the ice wearing a themed jersey celebrating the LGBTQ community.

Coach Rick Tocchet said earlier in the day that Kuzmenko decided not to wear the special uniform following discussions with his family.

“I’m not going to get into it because we don’t know the deals that happen over there. So I respect his decision,” Tocchet said.

Kuzmenko, 27, has become a fan favourite in his first NHL season, with his wide smile and outgoing personality.

Heading into Friday’s game, he had 37 goals and 31 assists in 73 games, and leads the Canucks in goals.

A male ice hockey player holds his stick at waist level with both hands while skating.
Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes, seen here wearing a Pride jersey prior to a March 2022 game in Vancouver, says he and teammates are looking forward to Pride night at Rogers Arena on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Some of his teammates have publicly committed to wearing the jerseys, designed by local artist Christin Hryc. The main crest 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,” defenceman 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 centre 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 pre-game 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 is scheduled to appear at a car dealership in North Vancouver on Saturday for an autism awareness event to raise funds for the Pacific Autism Family Network. 

In a statement, the Pacific Autism Family Network (PAFN) said it has told Foundation Auto that it will “not be able to support or endorse” the event. 

“Given the circumstances, as an organization that believes in meaningful inclusion, we can’t be associated in any way,” said PAFN board chair and president Sergio Cocchia. “We will not be accepting the funds or having anything to do with the event.” 

We know we had nothing and would have nothing to do with this and so we hope that as you present your story it doesn’t reflect on the foundation which is trying to do good work.”

Kuzmenko joins a handful of NHL players who’ve declined to wear Pride jerseys this season, including Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer, Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres blue liner Ilya Lyubushkin.

Lyubushkin cited an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia for electing not to participate in the Sabres’ pregame warmup on the team’s Pride night.

Whether a player wears the themed jersey comes down to individual rights, new NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said in Toronto on Thursday.

“The LGBTQ community shouldn’t feel that the NHL hockey players are turning their back on that community. The majority of the players have worn the jersey,” said Walsh, who has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights during his political career.

He added 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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