Sabres’ Ilya Lyubushkin to sit out NHL’s latest Pride night event, fearing Russian law

Sabers defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin will not participate in the team’s pregame skate ahead of Monday’s Pride Night matchup against the Canadiens. The rest of Buffalo’s players will wear Pride jerseys, the Sabers said. Here’s what you need to know:

  • In his decision, Lyubushkin cited fears about the Russian law and what it would mean if he returned to Russia. The 28-year-old was born in Russia and started his career there. In the off-season, he returns home to his wife and children.
  • On Friday, NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly said the athlete that the league has no information to suggest that Russian players face “material” threats in Russia or elsewhere if they choose to participate in Pride Night activities.
  • Buffalo said in a statement that it “feels strongly that one way to garner support (for the LGBTQIA+ community) is by wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tapes in warm-ups.” The Sabers added, “Nonetheless, we are aware of the overall threats faced by certain players and understand their decision not to take risks.”

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Teams’ concerns about the safety of Russian players have been raised since Russia’s anti-gay laws were changed in early December. According to The New York Times, the new law “makes it illegal to disseminate ‘propaganda’ about ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ in any medium, including social media, advertisements and films.” The law states that fines can be as high as $6,400 for citizens and $80,000 for organizations.

Other NHL teams have made headway in wearing Pride pre-match jerseys this season, whether with full or near-full participation.

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In January, a Flyers player (Russian defender Ivan Provorov) skipped warm-up sessions with his teammates at their Pride night because he did not want to wear the team’s Pride jersey and cited his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs.

Earlier this month, the Sharks went ahead with plans to host their Pride night, despite a cancellation from goaltender James Reimer, who cited his faith as the reason for not wearing a Pride jersey during warm-up. Last week, the Blackhawks declined to wear Pride jerseys, with team sources citing “security concerns” for their three players of Russian descent. Additionally, Panthers players Marc and Eric Staal did not participate in warm-up exercises at the team’s Pride night Thursday, also citing their Christian faith.


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What you say

Sabers captain Kyle Okposo and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin both said the team supports Lyubushkin’s decision.

Okposo said, “As an American and North American, I don’t think I’m in a position to understand the psychological choices he’s going through and some of the psychological distress he’s going through because he’s from a different part of the world. ”

He added: “I don’t think it’s fair to judge him in apples-to-apples terms. We support Boosh in this space and want to make sure he’s comfortable and that we respect his choices. I think it would be unwise to pass judgment on him without trying to understand the full extent of his decision. We support him.”

But both players also said it’s important to continue having Pride nights.

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“Hockey is for everyone and we want to encourage it,” Dahlin said. “I think it’s important to bring that much forward because hockey, we’ve got to grow and we’ve got to get even bigger. So it’s a good thing.”

Okposo shared a similar sentiment.

“They want to make sure everyone can come out on the rink and feel like they belong and are accepted,” Okposo said. “And I think that’s something we still have to deal with as a society as a whole, and as a hockey community, we still have to deal with it too. But we’re getting better and better. And we will continue to have these conversations and keep improving. But it’s extremely important to have that night tonight.”

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(Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)


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