SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers were the first NHL team to hold a Pride Night back in 2013 and will continue with their plans for tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs as other teams around the league have pulled back on similar events.
All Florida players are expected to wear specially designed white Pride jerseys in warmups tonight after a number of teams — including the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks — declined to have their players wear special jerseys on their own Pride Night.
There is still the possibility some Florida players will decide not to wear the jerseys and if so, they will not take part in warmups.
“As an organization, we have decided — and rightfully so — to move forward with it and support it and celebrate it,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said on Thursday morning.
“Teams around the league and players around the league, they’ve got the right to their opinion, and we’ve got the right to ours. But I’ve seen the sweaters. They’re great looking, and it should be a great night tonight.”
Some teams are backing out citing safety concerns for their Russian-born players and the possibility of them and their families facing scrutiny at home due to a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December which expanded restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ+ rights in the country.
The law bans what is considered “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and outlaws advertising, books, films and other things which could be determined to contain such “propaganda.”
Violations are punishable by fines ranging from $1,660-$66,000 in US currency with foreigners facing detention and potential expulsion from the country.
There is no example of any Russian player or their family being penalized for being part of an NHL-themed night but, the Panthers did take the possibility into consideration before deciding to continue as teams such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Jose have recently.
Sergei Bobrovsky, the lone Russian native on the current Florida roster, will start for the Panthers tonight per Maurice.
Both were held out of warmups by their teams. Provorov played for the Flyers in his game, Reimer was the backup goalie and did not.
The Panthers organization considered the Russian law and the potential ramifications. After numerous deliberations, decided to continue on as planned.
The team has been very active in the LGBTQ+ community in South Florida with the organization having strong showings at Pride parades — including the Stonewall Pride Parade in Wilton Manors — throughout the years.
Aside from wearing the warmup jerseys, which were designed by local artist Teepop and will be auctioned off to benefit You Can Play, the Panthers will have Pride-themed merchandise for sale at the arena and online.
There will be Pride scarves and wristband giveaways throughout the arena. Fans can also purchase speciality Pride-themed drinks and ‘Love Wins’ cups.
According to the team, the Florida Panthers Foundation will “match dollar-for-dollar all funds raised by these jerseys and will donate that match back to LGBTQ+ nonprofits in the South Florida community.”
The ceremonial puck drop will be done by Harvey Milk Foundation Co-Founder & Board President Stuart Milk who is the nephew of the civil rights leader.
The team’s Heroes Among Us Program will honor U.S. Coast Guard veteran who now serves as an activist for LGBTQ+ veterans.
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Toronto leads 1-0): Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 46-35-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: New York Rangers at Florida, Saturday, 5 p.m.