Ilya Samsonov opts out of wearing helmet decal as Leafs celebrate Pride Night

The Maple Leafs wore Pride-themed decals on their helmets on Tuesday but Samsonov did not join his teammates in doing so.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are celebrating their annual Pride Night during Tuesday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a number of festivities and pre-game events designed to make 2SLGBTQ+ communities feel included and welcomed, though not every player will be participating.

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who hails from Magnitogorsk, Russia, opted not to adorn his helmet with the Pride-themed decal issued by the team. The Maple Leafs are not wearing Pride-themed warmup jerseys, as has been the case since the organization first started hosting Pride nights in 2017.

Samsonov follows in the footsteps of other Russian NHLers such as Ivan Provorov, Ilya Lyubushkin and Andrei Kuzmenko who have opted not to wear their team's respective Pride-themed gear.

Samsonov will serve as the backup goaltender on Tuesday, with Joseph Woll getting the start against Columbus in what will be a meaningful night for a number of Maple Leafs who have actively expressed their support of 2SLGBTQ+ communities over the years.

“I think it's a great opportunity for our organization to make everybody feel welcome,” defenceman Morgan Rielly told Yahoo Sports. “You want Scotiabank Arena to be a place where people feel included, be involved, be a part of what we're doing and it's a great opportunity for us to express that tonight.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs will wear Pride-themed decals on their helmet when they host their annual Pride Night on Tuesday. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Toronto Maple Leafs will wear Pride-themed decals on their helmet when they host their annual Pride Night on Tuesday. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rielly has marched in Toronto’s Pride parade alongside general manager Kyle Dubas and has been a vocal supporter of the city’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities. The Vancouver native told reporters that he doesn’t think about the act of wearing a Pride jersey often, rather that his actions in support of 2SLGBTQ+ communities speak much louder.

“I believe that actions speak louder than words and especially speak louder than attire,” Rielly said.

Alexander Kerfoot has been a vocal ally of 2SLGBTQ+ communities and spoke about the Maple Leafs’ commitments to inclusion.

“It's our organization's way of saying we welcome everyone. Everyone is welcome at our games. We've been doing nights like this. Obviously, the organization has done a really good job of being inclusive to all of these groups.

“The most important thing is how guys in our locker room treat everyone on a day-to-day basis. We have one night like this but it matters more what your actions are over the course of the year. We want to live that, be that and this is our organization's way of doing that.”

Kerfoot and Ryan O’Reilly were invited to the launch of the Alphabet Sports Collective last month, a queer-led not-for-profit founded by Brock McGillis with the aim of creating a safer environment for people of all sexual identities and expressions of gender in hockey.

“It was a good night. I know (Alphabet Sports Collective board member) Bayne Pettinger somewhat well and he invited me. It's a great initiative they've got going on and I was excited to go," Kerfoot told Yahoo Sports. "A great night, lots of great speeches. I'm excited to see what they get up to in the future.”

Mark Giordano is one of many members of the 2022-23 Maple Leafs that grew up within the Greater Toronto Area. Giordano has marched at Toronto Pride before and understands the importance of 2SLGBTQ+ communities to the city’s identity.

“I've had the privilege of honour to walk in the parade a few times,” Giordano told Yahoo Sports. “You see the community, and like you said, how much it means to our city. For me, to take part in the way our organization and league handles teams having Pride Night, it's important.”

In conjunction with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs released the following statement:

Our annual Pride game is an opportunity to collectively support, empower, and uplift the members of our 2SLGBTQ+ community. As an organization, it is important to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies to foster an environment that respects all individuals of diverse sexual and gender identities.

We have a responsibility to ensure our game is safe and welcoming for all to participate in. We are proud to celebrate Pride and the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and creating a safe space for individuals to be their authentic selves.

Toronto-based local artist Jon Hanlan has designed Pride Night shirts that are being worn by Maple Leafs players. In addition, all NHL Pride merchandise will be available for purchase at Real Sports Apparel, with 20 percent of the sales going to the Toronto Gay Hockey Association, a not-for-profit organization that facilitates a non-contact league for gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and heterosexual people over 19.