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BUFFALO, NY — Ilya Lyubushkin cites the Kremlin’s anti-gay law and fears of retaliation at home in Russia for choosing not to participate in the pre-match warm-up for the Buffalo Sabers’ Pride Night, where players are expected to wear rainbow-colored T-shirts in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The team announced Lyubushkin’s decision Monday morning. Lyubushkin, 28, is from Moscow, where he has his family and visits regularly in the off-season.
The defender is expected to play Monday night against Montreal despite not participating in the warmup. The other players not only wear rainbow colored jerseys, but also use Pride Ribbon on their sticks. The Sabers changed their social media avatar to show their logo surrounded by a rainbow-colored outline.
Sabers captain Kyle Okposo said Thursday that he understands how difficult the situation has been navigating.
“There is a lot of sensitivity on the subject, and you have concerns for the Russians in particular,” Okposo said. “I can talk about myself as an American, as a North American person, who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be in Russia and grow up there. And I don’t think we’re able to talk about the psychology of these players, because we don’t understand. We honestly can’t understand because we haven’t been there.”
It wasn’t just Russian players who opted out of the warmup that have put Pride Nights around the NHL in the spotlight in recent months.
Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks, and Eric and Mark Stahl of the Florida Panthers all declined to get cozy in Pride-themed T-shirts, citing religious beliefs, while the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks opted for Players don’t wear them at all. Reimer and the Stahl Brothers are Canadian.
The Blackhawks, like Lyubushkin, cited a law passed last year in Russia that expanded restrictions on support for LGBT rights in the country as their rationale.
The Panthers — whose star goalie is Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — advanced with plans to wear Pride-themed jerseys Thursday night before their home game against Toronto. Bobrovsky co.
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