Chris Stewart played 16 games with the Philadelphia Flyers this season before he was sent down to Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Jan. 16, but the impact the 32-year-old forward made on his teammates during his time with them clearly was significant.
Flyers forwards James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton each said they called Stewart, who is Black, in the hours after their 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Wednesday seeking his advice on the best way forward in the wake of NBA players boycotting playoff games to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
“I’ve prided myself on being a great teammate on the ice, off the ice,” Stewart said Friday. “Both those guys (van Riemsdyk and Laughton) came over for Thanksgiving dinner, they had dinner with my family, they know my sons, they’re there for the Christmas skates, they’re playing mini-sticks in the basement.
“For 17 years I’ve been standing up for my teammates without ever thinking twice about it, without ever asking them to repay it, and they did it times 10 for me and my family yesterday by boycotting and stepping up to the plate. I’m forever indebted and got great gratitude for the NHL players and tons of respect for those guys.”
The NHL postponed four Stanley Cup Playoff games scheduled for Thursday and Friday after players from the eight remaining teams decided not to play as a form of protest against systemic racism and police brutality. The playoffs will resume Saturday.
Van Riemsdyk felt it was important to hear from Stewart, a Toronto native who has played 668 games for seven teams in 11 NHL seasons.
“I only got a chance to play with [Stewart] for this season but have gotten to know him really well, really respect him as a teammate and as a friend,” van Riemsdyk said Thursday.
Stewart, who is not on the Flyers roster for the playoffs, wouldn’t go into detail on their conversations but said he made sure his teammates knew no question was off limits.
“Any question is a good question,” Stewart said. “Just to have this conversation, everyone’s so afraid to talk about it because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. … I just wanted them to know they can bounce anything in their head off me and it’s a safe space and I’m not going to judge. I’ll try to answer it as best as possible.”
Stewart said he made it clear what he would do if he was with them in Toronto, the East hub city, but said he would respect his teammates regardless of the decision they made.
“With the game coming up, they didn’t know where they stood,” Stewart said. “They wanted to feel where I stood on the subject. I just blatantly told them if I was there in the bubble today, I would not be playing; that’s how I feel. I did defend them too. I said I understand if you guys feel like you have to play. At the end of the day, every person has to do what’s best for them. I would 100 percent respect that. But they just wanted to get a view from a set of eyes that were outside of what they’re used to and to use me to get that perspective.”