Marchand on NHL players finding their voice: 'This is bigger than sports' - InfoNews

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Marchand on NHL players finding their voice: 'This is bigger than sports'

A security guard opens a gate for an empty player bus as it departs the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. The professional sports schedule is expected to start getting busier on Friday after a string of postponements the past two days, but it won't be back to normal just yet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
August 28, 2020 - 6:51 PM

TORONTO - Brad Marchand has a message for anyone annoyed NHL players — as a group, not just a few here and there — are starting to find their voice.

Get used to it.

Less than 24 hours after members of the eight remaining teams taking part in the league's restart decided to postpone playoff games scheduled for Thursday and Friday following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin last weekend, Marchand made it clear lip-biting on issues like systemic racism and social justice is over.

"This is bigger than sports," the Boston Bruins winger said Friday. "Sports is a luxury. It's a luxury to watch this game, to play this game.

"I understand people want to watch the games and understand people want to see us, but it's too bad. We have bigger things that we care about and that we want to do and improve upon, and people that we want to support. That's what matters. "

NHLers made the decision to scratch those four post-season contests after watching players from other leagues follow the NBA's boycott that started Wednesday afternoon in the wake of Blake being shot seven times in the back.

Historically white, conformist and slow to adapt, hockey was a step late as the league went ahead with its games that night, but after a day of conversations between teams in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, as well as the Hockey Diversity Alliance, the decision was made to sit out.

"We're at the table now," Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Braydon Coburn said. "That's really the important thing."

Members of the Bruins, Lightning, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers — teams battling tooth and nail for a shot at the Stanley Cup — parked their on-ice differences and met Thursday morning after it became evident some players on Western Conference clubs, including Vegas Golden Knights enforcer Ryan Reaves, who is Black, were uncomfortable taking the ice.

And in a strange twist, being inside the secure zones the NHL established to keep COVID-19 at bay as it tries to complete the pandemic-delayed season no doubt helped hasten things.

"Next thing you know, there's 30 or 40 of us having a meeting," Tampa defenceman Luke Schenn said. "We decided to stand behind players in our league and other leagues. It's unique to be in a situation like this where you're running into guys in the elevator, in the lobby from different teams.

"And yet everyone's open and honest, and hockey gets pushed aside when you're having these conversations."

Coburn and Schenn were coming off their first game action in 5 1/2 months Tuesday and Wednesday, but wanted no part of hockey talk.

"Thanks for the question," Coburn said when their media availability veered towards goals, hits and saves. "We want to make sure we keep the attention and the conversation around the issues."

Islanders defenceman Scott Mayfield said it's important players use this platform for good.

"I've seen plenty of people using their platform in a negative way ... that just needs to end," he said. "It's a platform of positivity."

The NHL, meanwhile, announced the playoffs will resume Saturday and Sunday with a pair of triple-headers. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Boston and Tampa, which the Lightning lead 2-1, kicks things off Saturday at 12 p.m. ET in Toronto.

New York-Philadelphia is set for 7 p.m. in Toronto, while Vegas and the Vancouver Canucks starts at 9:45 p.m. in Edmonton. Both those series are tied at 1-1. The Dallas Stars, who hold a 2-1 edge, and Colorado Avalanche resume their series Sunday.

While the teams out west were not made available to the media Friday, talk in Toronto almost exclusively centred around what's happening beyond the bubbles.

"It was great and powerful," Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron said of the decision to postpone. "It's about human rights and it's about supporting our fellow players in this league."

Marchand said it was needed coming from a predominantly white sport.

"We do want to be part of the solution," he said. "We all need to learn a lot about what's happening outside of our own lives. A lot of us, we don't truly understand what it's like in other people's shoes, and we need to.

"It's the only way things are going to change."

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said there were a number of moments he'll take away from watching Thursday's developments in real time.

"We've got some momentum," he said. "The next step is to have some solutions. If we have to change some laws, let's get that done. If it's getting our the next generation, the youth, to understand the meaning of love and understanding, then let's get that done.

"That's the next step for me."

Trotz added continuing to learn from a position of privilege is key.

"Listening is a skill," he said. "This is a good time for everybody to listen because there's stuff in this world that everybody pretends they understand, but we don't.

"It is time to listen and support."

Schenn said that's been his biggest takeaway in what could be a moment players, fans and media look back on as a seismic shift.

"Had some great conversations," he said. "Some conversations that I've personally never had, and I think a lot of guys have never had."

Aware of some of the criticism coming the players' way from some circles, Marchand added this stand isn't about politics.

"That's not the goal and that's not what we're here for," he said. "There needs to be changes made throughout society. It's bigger than hockey right now and it's bigger than sports.

"It's about people being equal."

The second day of the arena lights going dark, however, happened as the NHL confirmed it's investigating whether former Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon made racially insensitive comments in Toronto during the restart.

While not commenting on that development directly, but rather how much further hockey has to go, Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said shining a light on things that need to change isn't just about the sport.

"Can we just sit here and say, 'Is it just hockey?'" Cooper asked. "We need to get better as a society. When there are unfortunate incidents, it's heartbreaking. But I'm the optimist on the side of people are good. Is the league behind? No, the league's learning just like everyone else. The league's in a better place today than it was a couple months ago and definitely than it was a couple years ago.

"But there are going to be incidents in the past. It's sad, it's shameful that things like that happen. But let's learn from it and be better."

And Mayfield, like Marchand, had parting a message for the "stick to sports" crowd.

"We're human beings," he said. "Everyone has a voice. Everyone has opinions. You just want to do what's right.

"Everyone needs to look in the mirror and be a better person."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2020.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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