January 19, 2023
A lot happened Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, shrouded by one big thing that took away from it all.
The Flyers won – their eighth in the last 10 now – Kevin Hayes notched his first career hat trick, Rasmus Ristolainen scored a shorthanded goal, Morgan Frost went between the legs for a goal of the year candidate, and Samuel Ersson continued his run as the hot hand behind Carter Hart in goal.
But above all else, the Flyers held their Pride Night on Tuesday and hosted a number of local LGBTQ+ organizations for it.
There was a pregame skate for local LGBTQ+ youth, officers, and first responders from the Greater Philadelphia G.O.A.L. organization and a postgame meet and greet with Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk – the two players who have been at the forefront of the Flyers' LGBTQ+ community outreach efforts – for them after too.
Thirteen-year-old Trin Stephens, a nonbinary skater from Snider Hockey who got into the sport because of a meeting with Laughton and van Riemsdyk earlier this season, was the club's guest of honor and got to beat the ceremonial drum before puck drop.
And the Flyers, for the first time ever, wore Pride-themed warmup jerseys – that were just standard practice jerseys, sure, but came with rainbow-striped numbers and nameplates that, alongside sticks and pucks, were to be auctioned off for proceeds meant to go toward growing hockey in more diverse communities.
Hockey Is For Everyone. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜#ANAvsPHI | #FueledByPhilly pic.twitter.com/oIyJ6dV1Ae— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 17, 2023
It was meant to be a great night, for the Flyers, for the LGBTQ+ community, for the betterment of the game, and when you take a step back, it still was.
But Ivan Provorov, citing his religious beliefs (Russian Orthodox), wanted no part of it. And whether he intended for that to happen or not, grabbed all of the attention away.
He didn't take part in Tuesday night's 15-minute warmup but still played. He doesn't have a jersey or rainbow-taped stick to be auctioned off, and because there was no heads-up of his decision to sit out warmups beforehand, much of the immediate questioning during postgame interviews – to Provorov, to Laughton, to head coach John Tortorella – centered around that rather than the team's performance or, more importantly, all the work put into Tuesday night's cause.
So did much of the 24 hours that followed, from fan frustration to league-wide media coverage and statements from the organization itself, the NHL, and the You Can Play Project – an LGBTQ+ inclusive sports foundation that has partnered with the league since 2013 – regarding the defenseman's call.
Provorov does have a right to his beliefs and Tortorella didn't hold it against him as far as keeping him in the lineup went – the Flyers' coach stood up for him postgame on Tuesday and added Thursday morning that there were conversations before the game and after on Provorov's decision to sit out, knowing there would be blowback from it in the aftermath.
But that doesn't free him from criticism or consequence either.
Personally, I'm incredibly disappointed in his decision-making. A lot of people are, and the likelihood is that there very well could be more blowback from the hometown crowd when the Flyers face Chicago in a few hours now that everything regarding the situation is out there.
It's not a good look at all, not for Provorov, whose standing with the team is rumored to be on shaky ground already, not for the Flyers, who had to field all this on the fly, not for the NHL, which try as it might always seems to keep shooting itself in the foot when it comes to diversity efforts, and not for the sport of hockey at large, which has had an extensive list of issues, scandals and hurdles blocking it from reaching newer and more diverse communities.
But past the anger, disappointment, and frustration from one guy's decision, Tuesday night has to be remembered for a cause that is much, much bigger than Ivan Provorov, and all the work the rest of the team put into supporting it.
"I know Provy spoke, I know Torts did, Me and JvR just got back from a room of about 50 people from the community, it was a great night," Laughton said postgame, wearing a Flyers Pride shirt in front of the media, on Tuesday. "Amazing initiative and something that's been close to me for a long time – I know Reemer too – I'm gonna leave at that, to be honest. It's a great, great night that brings a lot of awareness and everything like that. I know they spoke on it and, yeah, I'll leave it at that."
Tuesday night was about Laughton and van Riemsdyk's efforts into forming a genuine connection with Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ community, and their teammates and the organization standing alongside them in all of their efforts.
Tuesday night was about all the local organizations invited out: The Attic Youth Center, Galaei, the Independence Business Alliance, Jkidpride, the Mazzoni Center, the Philadelphia Falcons, Philadelphia FIGHT, the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, the William Way LGBTQ Community Center, and Greater Philadelphia G.O.A.L.
Tuesday night was about Trin Stephens' leap to get out on the ice.
And Tuesday night was to welcome and celebrate a community that has had to fight for every last inch of acceptance, and the part of it that wants to further seek it through the game of hockey.
But Ivan Provorov couldn't stand with that and couldn't bear to wear a rainbow-striped jersey for 15 minutes to at least stand with the rest of his teammates.
Ultimately, in the end, it only sucks for him.
"Honestly, I had an awesome night," Laughton said. "We had a big win. It was a great time and I'll leave it at that. It was a really, really awesome night and brought a ton of awareness to Pride and to let people know they're welcome in this game because they are."
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