Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin won't participate in warmups prior to the team's Pride Night game against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. According to the Associated Press, Lyubushkin isn't willing to wear a Pride-themed jersey due to a recent anti-gay law that was passed in Russia that restricts the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Lyubushkin is originally from Moscow and still has family that lives in Russia. He also visits the country during the offseason. The Sabres do still plan to wear Pride jerseys during warmups on Monday.
"The Buffalo Sabres are proud to continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community as allies by hosting our third annual Pride Night game," the team said in a statement. "It is of the utmost importance to us to continue to use our platform to strengthen our organizational goal of making hockey for everyone.
"Consistent with previous years, our teams feels strongly that one way to garner support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warmups. That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players and understand their decision to forego risk."
Sabres captain Kyle Okposo separately said that he understands that it's a difficult landscape for Russian players, such as his teammate Lyubushkin, to navigate.
"There's such a sensitivity to the topic, and you have concerns for the Russians, especially," Okposo said. "I can speak for myself as an American, as somebody from North America, I don't understand what it's like to be in Russia and to grow up there. And I don't think we're able to speak about the psychology of those players, because we don't understand. We're frankly not capable of understanding because we haven't been there."
The connections NHL players have to Russia has affected the decision making of multiple teams and players when it comes to Pride Nights across the NHL in recent weeks.
On Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks were slated to hold their annual Pride Night against the Vancouver Canucks. However, the team ended up not wearing their Pride-themed jerseys during warm-ups for the event. The Blackhawks chose not to wear Pride-themed jerseys due to the same Russian law that restricts the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population.
Meanwhile, Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is originally from Russia, wore a Pride jersey during warmups this past Thursday during the team's event. On that very same evening, Panthers forward Eric Staal and defenseman Marc Staal chose not to wear Pride-themed jerseys -- though they cited their Christian beliefs as the reason for not participating.
Back in January, defenseman Ivan Provorov didn't participate in warmups on the Philadelphia Flyers' Pride Night, and pointed to his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs as the reasoning. San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer did the very same earlier this month, while the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers chose not to wear Pride jerseys during warmups after originally planning to do so.