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Florida Panthers brothers Eric and Mark Staal declined to wear special Pride-themed warmup jerseys ahead of the team’s 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
The games were part of Florida’s Pride Night in support of the Jersey area’s LGBTQ community, and the brothers cited their religion as the reason for the decision.
“We do not pass judgment on how people choose to live their lives and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” the Staal brothers said in a statement. “Having said that, we feel that it goes against our Christian beliefs for us to wear the Pride jersey.”
After the loss, Eric Staal said that he wanted to stand by the brothers’ statement and would “do my best to move forward.” Mark Staal was not made available to the media.
While the Staal brothers declined to participate, Russian goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky was one of the Panthers who stepped forward with Pride-themed jerseys.
“My view is that the story is not about him,” said Florida coach Paul Morris, who has coached Eric Staal since he was the second overall draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003.
“The story is about the rest of the group getting excited, the organization and the fans excited to celebrate a great night. These are grown men who have lived their faith their whole lives. It’s not new to them. They have is right to take that stand. The rest of the players wore that sweater with pride and I hope we sent the message of ‘Welcome to our building, welcome to our franchise and welcome to the great game of hockey’ Gave.’
Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk wore a warmup jersey, and said he “embraced a night like this.”
“A night like tonight, for me is just about including everyone,” he said. “This is, in my opinion, the greatest sport in the world and everyone is welcome in our locker room and our organization.”
Auston Matthews scored two goals for Toronto and Matt Murray made 33 saves. Mitchell Marner and William Nylander each had a goal and an assist, and John Tavares finished with three assists.
look | Matthews at forward as Leafs thump Panthers:
The Maple Leafs earned their third win in four games after a 7-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
Toronto jumped out when Matthews scored his 33rd goal 5:05 into the first period. Tkachuk tied it at 1 at 14:25 when a replay review determined that Murray pulled Tkachuk’s odd-angled shot over the goal line on the power play.
The Maple Leafs went on to score three goals in the second. Nylander made it 2–1 at 1:20 and Matthews scored again at 2:57.
Will NY! pic.twitter.com/m1LJLe3RKQ
After Cousins got one back for the Panthers at 11:43, Bunting scored with two Florida players in the penalty box at 18:21. Bunting’s 21st goal gave Toronto a 4–2 lead.
The Maple Leafs put the game away with 5:37 remaining when Kerfoot scored on a pass from Tavares. Marner scored into an empty net a minute later.
Florida captain Alexander Barkov said of Toronto, “We knew they had a lot of offensive power and didn’t need a lot of space to get chances.” “We didn’t play that well defensively, gave him too many chances and his power play is one of the best in the league.”
The Maple Leafs face the Hurricanes on Saturday in Raleigh, NC.