MONTREAL — Perhaps no one has encapsulated what Pride Night around the NHL is supposed to be about better than Martin St. Louis.
The coach of the Montreal Canadiens, who was asked what message he thinks his team is sending by wearing the special Pride jerseys a local 2SLGTBQIA+ community member of the city designed for Thursday’s warmup before a game against the Washington Capitals, perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the NHL-wide initiative.
“I think one of the best qualities is having empathy, compassion,” said St. Louis, “and when you have that, you always kinda make sure the people around you are OK. You care about them, how they are, and I think a day like today is a sign of that, of having empathy, (saying,) ‘It’s OK. We love you guys.’ We’re all on this planet, we should love one another, and it’s one of those nights (to show it).”
Denis Gurianov will be the lone Canadien not taking warmup for Thursday’s game.
The 25-year-old Togliatti, Russia, native wasn’t available to comment on his decision, but St. Louis said it was made out of concern for reprisals against family members residing in Russia.
“We don’t know what the repercussions are there (for breaking the Russian ‘Gay Propaganda Law’) and I’m not judging Guri because I’ve never walked a day in his shoes,” said St. Louis. “I respect his decision.”
The coach also said more attention should be paid to the near-full participation of the Canadiens — and players around the league — than the outliers, who mostly sat out of Pride Nights for the same reasons Gurianov will.
There were exceptions, of course, with certain players opting out due to religious beliefs and certain teams electing to cancel wearing Pride jerseys in warmups because they didn’t have full participation.
But St. Louis feels the wide majority of players and teams participating shows to what extent hockey’s becoming a more accepting sport.
“I can’t speak for other teams, but the Canadiens are very proud to be a part of this night,” he said. “We do many nights where we honour welcoming different people, and tonight is another nice night for that. So these are nice initiatives for the Canadiens, and there are many other teams shining a light on important causes that help us advance as a society.”
Canadiens alternate captain Joel Edmundson feels participating in Pride Nights, and all other nights that honour marginalized communities, shows to what extent hockey has evolved.
When asked if someone from the 2SLGTBQIA+ community would be welcomed as a teammate, he was unequivocal.
“I think so, especially in this dressing room,” Edmundson said. “They’d be accepted by this group of guys and this organization with open arms.”
Both expressed their pride in participating in Thursday’s event.
“I think as a society, not just sports, I think as a society we move in the right direction every year,” Gallagher said. “Every time we hold these events, it gains more and more steam, so to speak. And they’re important. We want our game to be one that is one that includes everyone, respects everyone, and we want everyone to feel like you can come to a hockey game and watch and you’re appreciated and respected, and that’s what we want our game to represent.”
When asked if Gurianov’s non-participation was disappointing, Gallagher said he didn’t think “disappointing” was the appropriate word.
“I think two things can be true at once,” Gallagher added. “I think we can support the organization’s, and the league’s, decision to hold these nights to promote inclusivity and respect and we can also respect our teammate’s decision where, back home in Russia, they have propaganda laws and he’s making a decision to protect his family. And regardless of how you feel about that, I think family is important to everyone and I think you have to respect both.”
The Canadiens participating in warmup, scheduled for 6:25 p.m. ET., will be using Pride Tape on their sticks.
The sticks, and the special Pride Jerseys they’ll be wearing — which have a reimagined Canadiens logo on them — will be autographed and auctioned off on April 12, with all proceeds raised to be donated to You Can Play and GRIS-Montreal.
Fans who wish to bid on the items can find the auction here.