The protests, which were also carried out in the WNBA and impacted some games in Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, were spurred by the police shooting Sunday of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The first team to boycott a game was the Milwaukee Bucks, who were scheduled to play the Orlando Magic in a playoff game at 4:30 p.m. ET in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. All three games on the NBA schedule were eventually postponed.
Milwaukee is about 40 miles north of Kenosha.
“We support the fight against racism and injustice,” Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said after a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round. “There are different ways to express that fight and obviously NBA players expressed their opinions by boycotting the games today. We support it.”
The NHL played three games on Wednesday, a 3 p.m. ET game between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, an 8 p.m. ET game between the Bruins and Lightning, each played in the Eastern Conference hub city of Toronto, and a 10:30 p.m. ET game between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, played in the Western Conference hub city of Edmonton.
Players on the Bruins and Lightning said that they found out about the boycotts as they were getting on the bus and heading to the rink, at which point it was too close to game time for the discussions that would have needed to take place.
“I think, personally, with our team, we played last night, we played today, the other leagues hadn’t taken their stances until we got here tonight,” Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think for us it was something we found out when we got to the rink and something we have to address going forward.”
Stars forward Tyler Seguin, who along with teammate Jason Dickinson knelt for the United States and Canada national anthems before a game Aug. 3, said boycotting a game is not the only way to show your support for the cause.
“I think there are different ways to show your actions and what you support, [Dickinson] and I did our first game,” Seguin said after Dallas’ 6-4 loss to the Avalanche in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round. “I fully support what the NBA and MLB are doing, and we had the decision tonight to play the game. We look forward to showing our actions more in the coming days.”
Avalanche center Nazem Kadri agreed.
“It crosses your mind when you see other leagues doing something like that,” Kadri said. “We support and applaud the NBA for taking those circumstances. I understand, this is a problem that has gone on for far too long. The signs, the hockey ops is great and everything but, you know, eventually words get stale and it’s about action and making a difference.”
There was a moment of remembrance before the Lightning-Bruins game in which Blake was mentioned.
Former NHL forward Anson Carter, now an analyst for NBC Sports, said he didn’t have an issue with the NHL playing its games Wednesday.
“I’m OK with them playing the game, continuing to play,” said Carter, who is Black. “And also, the League went about their business and identified and acknowledged what has happened.
“But my focus right now really is, what are we doing about it? Yes, we can protest. Yes, we can sit out. But what change are we actually trying to do? If you protest and go about your business and nothing really changes, then what is the sense of protesting? The focus really should be now on, what are we doing to change?”
Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild, a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance who gave a speech about anti-racism before a game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks on Aug. 1 and knelt for the U.S. national anthem, called the decision to play by his fellow players “disheartening” on a Vancouver radio station Wednesday.
The speech was referenced by Lightning coach Jon Cooper, when he was asked about Dumba’s comments.
“Being part of a professional league, I watch so many good things all professional leagues do,” Cooper said. “I look around at our arena and I sit back and think about when we first got here and the emotional speech that Matt gave that was so moving and that guys still talk about what’s gone on and what’s happened.
“Unfortunately, we can’t control some of the things that go on in the outside world. I truly believe whether it’s pro sports or the business world or whatever it is, at some point we’re going to have to come together. Whether you say the NHL is behind or ahead, the League has done so many good things in so many different avenues, this is one we need to pick our head up, and there’s no doubt we will.”
Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog said every player wants to see things change.
“This has gone on way too long in this country and it needs change,” Landeskog said. “What the next steps are from here, I’m not sure; I don’t have those answers, but I think as a hockey community, we stay tight-knit and I think at this point we all support change in this country.”
NHL.com staff writers Tracey Myers and David Satriano contributed to this report