TORONTO – Given time to digest the player-driven protests that dominated the sports landscape while they played Game 2 of their playoff series Wednesday, the head coaches of the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders delivered two different responses Thursday.
Barry Trotz demanded involvement.
Alain Vigneault pleaded ignorance.
When they spoke around noontime, both coaches expected to be behind their respective benches for Thursday’s first scheduled NHL game at 7 p.m. ET, while the NBA postponed its full slate of action for a second consecutive day.
The quieting of the courts is a result of a player-driven initiative to draw attention to police brutality of Black people in the United States and systemic racism. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin Sunday by a police officer acted as the tipping point.
Both professional tennis circuits followed suit, cancelling play Thursday.
The newly formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, which includes Evander Kane, Matt Dumba and Akim Aliu, formally requested the NHL to act in unison with the NBA and suspend its two games Thursday.
That is now expected to happen.
Trotz said the Islanders held a team discussion on racism and whether to sit out Game 3, after the NHL and its players’ decision to go ahead with Wednesday night’s action drew criticism.
“I’m trusting that group, and the leadership of guys like [captain] Anders [Lee], and they’re excellent that way,” Trotz said. “They understand the importance of the playoffs, but they also understand where the world is right now. What happened yesterday, we really weren’t informed what was happening. We were playing when all this happened. As you get to digest it, I think what happened last night is a great statement for the athletes. They have a great platform, and they used it.
“I just heard that the NBA is going to continue to play [at some point], and in my opinion I think all sports should play because I think the athletes in every sport have a great platform. Just like celebrities do. If you want to keep the issue in the forefront, then these athletes have a great platform. Continue to play, continue to express the message.”
Vigneault felt unprepared to comment on the NBA players’ boycott following the Flyers’ victory Wednesday and his sole focus remained on the playoffs Thursday.
“I have no idea what’s going on in the outside world,” Vigneault said from the bubble.
“Ever since we eliminated Montreal, the only thing that’s been open in my room is my computer to hockey games. I’ve been trying to prepare my team the best way I can.
“I’m invested 24/7 on our team, working 20 hours a day, going through video and preparing our group. I don’t do Twitter. I haven’t read a sports article in I don’t know how long, and I haven’t read any type of article in I don’t know how long. So, I guess I’m a hockey nerd.”
Vigneault, apologizing for disappointing with his answer, added he believes the NHL is a great league “doing everything that they can to, obviously, help in their own way, what society is going through.”
Trotz said the focus has to be on taking action and players using their platform. The HDA took the lead.
“What’s the end game?” Trotz asked.
“You have to get involved. Players are going to have to get involved. I’m going to have to get involved. Everybody. And if you do that, that will effect change for our country. And it definitely needs it right now.”