The Flyers had just finished an adrenaline-pumping, physically-taxing overtime victory.
As Matt Niskanen and his teammates hopped on the team bus back to Hotel X Toronto, a simple glance at their phones gave them a glimpse into a much bigger story that was developing in the sports world.
A story that is vitally important, far greater than wins and losses in sports.
“We just had a big win, guys first get on their phones usually when we get to the bus and a lot of times conversations happen there,” Niskanen said Friday in a video interview. “That was the first time the news of the NBA came to our attention. Obviously, things progressed from there over dinner and into the next day.”
On Wednesday afternoon, news broke in the NBA of its players’ striking in response to last Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake was shot seven times and is now paralyzed from the waist down. As the news of the strike unfolded, the Flyers were in the thick of their 4-3 OT win over the Islanders in Game 2 of their best-of-seven second-round playoff series.
They were scheduled to play Game 3 the very next night Thursday at Scotiabank Arena. The game was not held. The NHL and NHLPA agreed to not hold playoff games Thursday or Friday in order to highlight the current societal issues of racism and racial injustice, a decision spurred by the Hockey Diversity Alliance and following the lead of NBA players.
“I think when the NBA took a stand, we all respected that,” Claude Giroux said Friday. “We wanted to stand with them.”
NHLers in the league’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – had discussions and decided postponing games was the best course of action in unifying with Black players and players of color in the NHL, friends and foes in competition who are asking for support – and a stand.
“I think [Thursday], it was a good day, just the way all the players got together,” Giroux said. “All four teams in the [Toronto] bubble, we had some great conversations. We all talked with [Golden Knights forward] Ryan Reaves and [Wild defenseman] Matt Dumba and being able to hear what they had to say. Everybody’s on the same page and everybody’s supporting. We all stand together.
“We know that it’s not going to solve everything tomorrow; it’s a process. For me, it’s just getting conversations with everybody. The last six months I think I had great conversations with my teammates, with my wife, and just educate yourself and know a little bit more.”
Wayne Simmonds, one of the most prominent Black players in the NHL and a beloved former Flyer, is a key leader in the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers’ NHLPA representative, were asked about Simmonds on Friday.
“I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to Simmer yet,” van Riemsdyk said. “Yesterday was a bit of a whirlwind in the morning with all these meetings that we were having and the discussions we were having with the different calls and the members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. I know Simmer is a part of that as well. He’s been a part of all these conversations with the league and stuff like that too. Obviously the work that those guys have done so far to get the ball rolling on things has been great. We want to try to support them and have their back going forward.”
In February 2019, Giroux was emotional when talking about Simmonds, two days before his longtime teammate was traded.
On Friday, he discussed their relationship.
“I played with Wayne for seven years and we were great friends; we’re still great friends,” Giroux said. “Just all the years we have together, playing with [Chris Stewart] this year, getting to know him too. Just being able to support them and to know that we’re all in this together, I think that’s very important.”
The Flyers-Islanders series is tied 1-1. The series will resume this weekend. Van Riemsdyk and the Flyers are not worried about a break in momentum or readiness for Game 3.
The postponement was important.
“Each game obviously presents a unique and different challenge,” van Riemsdyk said. “We’re all professionals here. When the games come and we arrive at the rink, we’re ready to go, we’re ready to put forth all our effort, attention and energy into playing the game and having a good result. Once we get to the rink and once we get there to play, we’ll be ready to roll.”
Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.