Ryan Reaves struggled with what he wanted to do as he lay in bed Wednesday night.
The Vegas Golden Knights forward knew NBA players had boycotted playoff games to protest systemic racism and police brutality, after a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, at least seven times in the back Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He knew WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer players had boycotted games as well.
And he knew the Golden Knights were scheduled to play the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round on Thursday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the West hub city.
“Am I really going to walk out on my team and be the only guy?” Reaves asked himself. “Or [are there] going to be a couple of guys?”
Then Reaves woke up Thursday to a text from former St. Louis Blues teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, whose Tampa Bay Lightning had played the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night in Toronto, the East hub city. Reaves is Black; Shattenkirk is white. Shattenkirk said a bunch of players in the East wanted to talk.
Then Reaves received a text telling him Canucks players wanted to talk too.
“The conversation started with white players on other teams wanting to talk,” Reaves said. “I think that’s the most powerful thing that happened today, and now you see us all coming together, all opponents here.”
That helped lead to the players’ decision, supported by the NHL, not to play the Stanley Cup Playoff games scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
After the announcement Thursday, five players stood at microphones in Edmonton: Reaves, Colorado Avalanche center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Dallas Stars forward Jason Dickinson, Canucks center Bo Horvat and Avalanche center Nazem Kadri. Players from each of the four teams in the hub stood behind them.
“I think if you look around this room, there’s a lot of white athletes in here, and I think that’s the statement that’s being made right now,” Reaves said. “It’s great that the NBA did this and the MLB and the WNBA. They have a lot of Black players in those leagues. But for all these athletes in here to take a stand and say, ‘You know what? We see the problem too, and we stand behind you …’
“I go to war with these guys, and I hate their guts on the ice. But I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. The statement that they’ve made today is something that’s going to last. These two days isn’t going to fix anything, but the conversation and the statement that’s been made is very powerful, especially coming from this League.”
Reaves has a unique perspective on the issues. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his mother, Brenda, is white. His father, Willard, is Black and a former sergeant with the Manitoba Sheriff Services in Winnipeg. His great-great-great-grandfather Bass Reeves was the first Black deputy U.S. marshal (and spelled his last name differently when born a slave in 1838).
When the Golden Knights played the Stars in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Aug. 3, it was their first game since a Black man, George Floyd, died in the custody of a white police officer May 25 in Minneapolis. Reaves took a knee for the national anthems along with Dickinson, Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner and Stars forward Tyler Seguin.
“He’s a smart, intellectual guy that has a lot of loyalty to both his race but also to law enforcement and military,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “He doesn’t do anything without considering everything.
“And so, when we discussed what was going to go on here today, he had my full support. I don’t think he slept a lot last night. I think it weighed heavily on him, but I also think he was very comfortable in his decision. I’m real proud of him and proud to stand behind him.”
It’s significant that Reaves, a tough guy known for hard hits and witty chirps, helped bring together his fellow players across the League, including the opponents against whom he’s competing in a playoff series.
“I think that’s all part of the statement,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “There’s sports, and then there’s things that are bigger than sports, and I wasn’t surprised at all this morning when I spoke to our players and they wanted to talk to Ryan. They felt like that was the right thing to do.
“These guys, they’re teammates within the League. A lot of times, they play on different teams. They all care about each other, but when they go on the ice, they still compete hard against each other and yet they’re family. I felt like our group wanted to make sure that the Vegas team knew, or Ryan knew, that they were behind him and wanted to have a conversation. I was behind them all the way and supported them 100 percent with whatever decision they made.
“It’s hard not to be proud of them.”