Colorado Avalanche Players and Opponents Speak Out against Racism

Two members of the Colorado Avalanche, Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, were part of a panel of players who spoke about the postponement of NHL games.

The Colorado Avalanche were scheduled to play Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals game against the Dallas Stars on Friday, August 28 — tonight, in fact. However, the game has been postponed.

The postponement is a response to the continuing racially-motivated police brutality that is occurring in the United States, where most of the NHL teams are located. The latest incident happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the police shot a Black man in the back seven times last Sunday.

The NHL came under fire because they played their two playoff games on Wednesday, one of them the Avalanche-Stars game, when many other leagues cancelled or postponed games for that evening. The postponements and cancellations were a result of player boycotts in response to the continuing racism and police brutality.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, himself a person of color but one from Europe, spoke to that topic. He and four other players, one of them teammate Nazem Kadri, stood in front of the media on Thursday. He was asked specifically about playing that game, if it felt right. Bellemare responded by saying the following:

“It happened really fast. I don’t want to give the blame to anybody. But by the time we got to the rink, games were on, and the news came out that the NBA postponed. I feel like after reflecting on it, and us getting together, this is the best response we could’ve had.”

His comment is about the current boycott. The response the night of was minimal. The Eastern Conference game, between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, featured a moment of reflection before the national anthem. The Avs-Stars game did not feature such a moment of reflection. However, as noted, two days’ worth of games have now been postponed.

Bellemare sees this postponement as a good opportunity:

“Those two days, we know that they are not going to change everything right now. The main point is that we’re all here, and we are aware of what’s going on, that it has to stop. It is the message we’re sending to our organization, the NHL, that we want to work together to take a better step, a different step and make sure that this never happens again.”

Nazem Kadri, a Muslim of Lebanese descent, is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. He has long spoken out about such issues, specifically relating to his being a person of color and a Muslim in countries where both put him as a minority. During the press conference, he talked about the boycott:

“This is a big enough statement, just all these guys sticking together. I’ve got so much more respect for every player in this league by doing something like this…Hockey is a team sport, a team game, and every single one of these guys are on the same page and stand with each other.”

Kadri, speaking about the HDA’s plan, says he can’t talk to much about the specifics, they do have a series of initiatives that he thinks are “reasonable.” He continues:

“We want the NHL to understand this is a partnership, a collaborative effort to create sustainable change. Moving forward, it’s going to have to be the whole league collectively, not just one or two guys. Strength in numbers is key. In order to make serious change, that’s what’s going to need to happen.”

Bellemare sees the need for these actions to continue after this brief period of time:

“The HDA has a plan, and it’s up to us after the bubble, the players and the organization, to make sure that we work together with our communities to make sure it gets better and better. The reason why we’re here right now is because there’s no one in this room happy about what is happening. And that is the key. We can change the five guys standing in front of the mic, and it would be the same answers.”

One of the most outspoken players at the conference was Vegas forward Ryan Reaves, also a member of the HDA. A big point that he made was that, if you look at the group collected behind the five speakers, it’s made up of their teammates — primarily white teammates. He said of that fact:

“For all these athletes in here to take a stand and say, ‘You know what? We see a problem too, and we stand behind you’.”

The Colorado Avalanche released a video of the setup of the press conference. In the original video, you can see dozens of players clustered behind the five speakers. With the Avs video, you can see how many Colorado players attended.

I can easily identify Matthew Nieto, himself of Hispanic origin, along with captain Gabriel Landeskog, alternates Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson, Cale Makar, Nikita Zadorov, and Tyson Jost. Originally, I was looking at this picture. However, in the above video, you can also see J.T. Compher, Andre Burakovsky, Pavel Francouz, Ryan Graves, Sam Girard, Valeri Nichushkin, Mark Barberio, Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert, Kevin Connauton, and prospects Sheldon Dries, Logan O’Connor, Conor Timmins, and Shane Bowers. That list is not comprehensive — I think most if not all of the Avs players were in attendance.

Indeed, the Colorado Avalanche’s coach, Jared Bednar, is renowned for not saying much, especially beyond hockey. However, he said of the boycott:

“I’m proud of them for taking the time to get together, not just with the players here in our bubble but also the bubble out East. I think when you get together as a group it sends a stronger message.”

Kadri ultimately puts it all into perspective:

“Some things are bigger than sports. There comes a time where you’ve got to start acting on your word. You can say and put up signs and all that stuff, which is great. But at the end of the day, what are we really doing to make a difference. It’s that time for action.”

Personally, I think we should all take some time for reflection on what we see day-to-day and in the news. I think it’s very notable that the two players who spoke out for the postponement, Kadri and Bellemare, have infants at home. (Bellemare also has older children.) They know a boycott can extend the time they have away from their families. I think we owe to them and the sacrifice they’ve made to at least reflect.

The NHL has stated that it plans to resume the playoffs starting Saturday. At the time of writing, the league had not released a schedule. The Colorado Avalanche are down two games to one in the series against the Stars.