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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel during the U.S. national anthem when he did so before the opening playoff game between Edmonton and Chicago in Edmonton, Alberta.

Dumba knelt at center ice Saturday while fellow Black players Malcolm Subban of Chicago and Darnell Nurse of Edmonton each stood with a hand on one of his shoulders.

Several teams this week stood together during the U.S. and Canadian anthems, with some players locking arms to show solidarity.

With the message “END RACISM” on the video screens around him, the Wild defenseman made a passionate speech about racial injustice on behalf of the league and the Hockey Diversity Alliance.

“Racism is everywhere, and we need to fight against it,” Dumba said. “We will fight against injustice and fight for what is right. I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans because Black lives matter, Breonna Taylor’s life matters. Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us.”

Dumba and a handful of other Black hockey players formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance in June in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in policy custody in Minnesota. Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, wore a Hockey Diversity Alliance sweatshirt while making the speech and kneeling.

“I just wanted to kind of show support,” Nurse said. “We’re all in this, fighting this same fight. It was good that the message was heard and needs to continue to be spread and actions need to speak louder than words.”

Afterward, Dumba received support from around the hockey community.

“I think everyone in the league stands with those guys,” Colorado forward Matt Nieto said. “There’s just no room for racism in our sport or any sports or just in general for that matter.”

J.T. Brown, who raised his right fist during the anthem prior to a game in 2017 when with the Tampa Bay Lightning, said on Twitter he applauded “this great start” from Dumba.

“Moving forward, teammates shouldn’t let teammates fight this battle alone,” Brown tweeted. “We always show up for each other on the ice, this shouldn’t be any different.”

Earlier this week, Avalanche center Nazem Kadri said standing together with Minnesota players prior to an exhibition game was a good sign of solidarity, but he called for more than just gestures.

“We’re trying to make the game more diverse, and the diversity in the game doesn’t happen with racism still going on, so that’s an important thing for us to address,” Kadri said. “As players we have addressed that. From a league standpoint, I think we’d maybe like to see a little more acknowledgement and having them address the situation and know that they stand with their players.”

Asked about Kadri’s comments, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told The Associated Press on Friday, “We’re in complete agreement as to the ultimate goal.”

The league is made up of over 95% white players and has no people of color as coaches or general managers. The recent national debate on racism caused many of those white players to speak out about the subject.

“I’ve said how I feel, and other players are getting comfortable to say how they feel, as well,” said Stars forward Tyler Seguin, who marched in a peaceful protest in Dallas.

When the playoffs began Saturday, one banner in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena read, “#WeSkateFor Black Lives.” Before the nightcap between Pittsburgh and Montreal, an anti-racism video montage played on the video screens.

“In hockey, we often let our effort, our determination and passion to win do the talking,” the video said. “But when an issue is bigger than the game, we must speak out, starting with three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black Lives Matter.”

Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said he received a call from Vegas forward Ryan Reaves prior to the exhibition game between the Coyotes and Golden Knights about players locking arms and is glad to see the league prioritizing diversity.

“I’m all in on that stuff,” Tocchet said. “I thought it was terrific. I watched all the other teams do different things. To show that awareness is terrific.”

Reaves wanted to do something to bring awareness during the anthem, and teammates told him they’d be supportive. He chose not to kneel because he wanted to do something the entire team could be a part of.

“For a lot of guys, kneeling isn’t the way they would want to show support, and if we wanted to do something as a team, my big thing was I didn’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable in what they wanted to do,” Reaves said. “I know that if I said I wanted everybody to kneel, at least one guy was going to feel uncomfortable and I didn’t want that. So I think this was the best way to be able to include everybody in it and have everybody comfortable with what we were doing.”

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Punchers chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one of Jason Spezza’s gloves when he dropped them to the ice to fight Dean Kukan.

“I just tried to spark the guys, just trying to show some desperation and have some push-back,” Spezza said after Toronto’s emotional comeback victory against Columbus he played a substantial role in. “Without the crowd you don’t have that, so just trying to create some emotion.”

Spezza versus Kukan was fight No. 8 in the first week of the NHL playoffs, almost triple the total from the entire 2019 postseason combined.

Fighting has decreased drastically in recent years, especially in the playoffs when every shift matters, but the unique circumstances of hockey’s restart — several months off, empty arenas and more intense best-of-five series — have ratcheted up the fisticuffs in the battle for the Stanley Cup.

“Guys are full of energy, and there’s guys walking the line a little bit more,” New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “In a short series, I think guys are looking to change momentum. … When a guy’s coming at you and intense, you’re being intense back, and when those two sparks collide, sometimes there’s fire. We’ve seen a couple of scraps and some have been game-changing.”

Spezza’s bout changed Game 4 of Toronto-Columbus, much like Justin Williams fighting Ryan Strome less than three minutes into the first NHL game since March set a tone for Carolina’s sweep of the New York Rangers.

Sometimes it hasn’t worked out so well, such as Winnipeg defenseman Nathan Beaulieu challenging 6-foot-3, 231-pound Calgary forward Milan Lucic 2 seconds into the game that wound up being the Jets’ last of the season.

“You understand what Nate’s trying to do: He’s trying to show that they’re ready to play and they’re not going to go down without a fight,” Lucic said. “For me, you just want to show that you’re ready to play and you’re not going to back down from their push, no matter if it’s a fight or whatever.”

Four months of built-up testosterone might explain some of this, though the reasons behind each fight have varied. Jets captain Blake Wheeler fought Matthew Tkachuk after the hard-nosed Flames winger injured Mark Scheifele on a hit that was either a terrible accident or a “filthy, dirty kick,” depending on who’s being asked.

Wheeler conceded he didn’t even see the play but felt the need to defend a teammate. Five-foot-nine Boston defenseman Torey Krug did the same after Tampa Bay forward Blake Coleman hit Brandon Carlo in open ice when those division rivals met in a seeding game.

Fight first, ask questions later.

“You see a lot of fights right after good hits, clean hits, hard hits, and you see a lot of them after questionable hits and you see a lot of them after obviously head shots,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That’s become the norm a bit in hockey now where players kind of react to a hit that they don’t see 100 percent of it.”

In other cases, emotions just boil over. It happened twice in four games between Minnesota and Vancouver, including the opening minutes of Game 4 when Ryan Hartman and Jake Virtanen squared off. Hartman did his best to get under opponents’ skin from the series opener when he grabbed Canucks forward Micheal Ferland’s stick while sitting on the bench.

There weren’t a whole lot of friendships forged as the Canucks eliminated the Wild in four games, or almost anywhere in the qualifying round. Old friends Tampa Bay and Washington renewed pleasantries when Yanni Gourde fought T.J. Oshie, and that bad blood won’t be forgotten if they meet later in the playoffs.

Rivalries will continue to emerge, so don’t expect the gloves to stay on as the stakes get higher.

“Guys are playing the game purely and for the love of the game and you see how much they love it and how much they want to win,” Calgary coach Geoff Ward said. “Saying that, there could be a potential for more. But I think that’s just an indication of how much guys are willing to do whatever it takes to shift momentum in a hockey game and you try to help get a win.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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