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Maple Leafs not featuring themed jerseys for team's Pride night Tuesday

NHL Pride tape NHL Pride tape - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs held the team's annual Pride night celebration Tuesday — minus themed warmup jerseys.

Players sported Pride decals on their helmets and many used rainbow stick tape during the pre-game skate before taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov, however, didn't wear the decal on the back of his mask.

The Leafs have held Pride nights in support of the LGBTQ+ community since 2017, but have never sported special warmup jerseys.

The team had a number of Pride-related events planned throughout Tuesday, including a live drag show set to Canadian music icon Shania Twain's song "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" shown on the Scotiabank Arena scoreboard before players hit the ice.

A small group of NHLers have declined to wear Pride warmup jerseys this season, including Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov, Vancouver Canucks forward Andrei Kuzmenko, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer, Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres blueliner Ilya Lyubushkin.

Some teams have altered or cancelled plans surrounding similar events.

Samsonov didn't speak to reporters before the game about his decision, but a Russian law restricts "propaganda" about LGBTQ+ people, including in advertising, media and the arts.

Other NHL players have cited religious beliefs for declining to wear Pride jerseys.

Toronto players and head coach Sheldon Keefe donned rainbow-themed T-shirts during a Tuesday morning media availability.

Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly has marched in Toronto's Pride parade along with general manager Kyle Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan in the past.

"The belief within the organization has always been there in terms of including people and having our team be a place where everybody's welcome and safe," Rielly said. "Whether you wear jerseys or not, I believe actions speak louder than words.

"And especially speak louder than attire."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.