Sabres’ Russian player won’t take part in Pride night warmup
Buffalo, New York –
Ilya Lyubushkin cited anti-gay Kremlin laws and fear of retaliation at home in Russia for choosing not to attend the Buffalo Sabers’ pregame warm-up at the team’s Pride Night. Support for the LGBTQ+ community.
The team announced Ljubuskin’s decision Monday before Buffalo’s game against Montreal. Lyubushkin is from Moscow, has his family, and regularly visits in the off-season.
The 28-year-old defenseman was Buffalo’s only healthy player who did not participate in a warm-up before entering the game. The rest of the players stood on the ice wearing dark blue jerseys with the Sabers logo on the front framed by a rainbow outline of the same design the team used for its social media avatars throughout the day. .
A few players wrapped their sticks in pride tape, and the Sabers warmed up with commemorative packs featuring the date and both teams’ logos in rainbow colors. As with the Sabers’ past two Pride His Knights, the Buffalo Gay Men Choir sang the national anthems of the United States and Canada.
“We continue to champion underrepresented groups in hockey and Pride Nights, like many across the league, sparked meaningful conversations and encouraged support for the LGBTQIA+ community,” the team said in a statement. I hope you will.
“Our team feels strongly that one way to get support is by wearing the Pride jersey and using the Pride tape in warm-ups,” the team said. Without mentioning Lyubushkin specifically, Sabers added:
Sabers captain Kyle Okposo, whose father is from Nigeria and who faced discrimination for being black when moving to Minnesota, defended his teammates while citing the importance of celebrating Pride Night.
“We stand by Bouch (Lybuschkin) in this room. We want to make him feel comfortable and respect his decision,” Okposo said.
“I empathize with my teammates and with Bouche in the situation he is in, but think about it, if you have an introverted gay member of your team and you have to empathize with him in that situation. I have to,” he said. “We have to understand that and that’s part of accepting and that’s why we want to accept.”
Okposo also reiterated what he told the Associated Press last week, saying he was sensitive to the concerns of Russian players.
Russian players opting out of warmups isn’t the only thing that’s made Pride Nights a hot topic in the NHL in recent months.
Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers, James Rymer of the San Jose Sharks and Eric Stahl and Mark Stahl of the Florida Panthers refused to wear pride-themed jerseys to warm up for religious reasons. The Blackhawks have chosen not to let players wear them at all.The Reimer and Stahl brothers are Canadian.
The Blackhawks, like Lyubushkin, cited a law passed in Russia last year to expand restrictions to support LGBTQ+ rights in the country.
The Florida Panthers, who have Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovski, have gone ahead with plans to wear a pride-themed jersey before their home game against Toronto on Thursday night.
The Sabers’ Pride Night jerseys and sticks will be auctioned off on the team’s website, with proceeds going to local Pride organizations.
Sabers coach Don Granato said he left it up to the players to discuss and decide how to handle the Pride Night.
“It was great that our group was able to actually host an event like this and have so many meaningful conversations. Based on that, we were even able to actually talk, more than hockey,” Granat said. “I think the authenticity of our group has been a real silver lining for the event we’re excited to host tonight.”
What Okposo found important was that the Sabers players were discussing sensitive topics.
“I think that’s something we’re still working on as a society as a whole and as a hockey community,” Okposo said. “But we are getting better.