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Ex-Sharks winger Kurtis Gabriel talks retirement, promoting inclusion in NHL

Ex-Sharks winger Kurtis Gabriel talks retirement, promoting inclusion in NHL

Ex-Shark Gabriel talks retirement, promoting inclusion in NHL originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It was time for Kurtis Gabriel to retire from hockey. But it doesn’t mean he’s getting out of hockey.

In September, Gabriel announced his surprise retirement from the sport. Just 29, the popular winger had patrolled the ice for the Sharks during the 2020-21 NHL season. Last year, he was part of both the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs organizations.

In his playing days, Gabriel primarily was known for his high-energy physicality, willingness to drop the gloves and embracing social issues. In February 2019, Gabriel became the first player to use Pride Tape in an actual NHL game, and not just in warm-ups.

Gabriel is getting off the ice, but he’s still a leader away from it.

Gabriel is part of the just-launched Alphabet Sports Collective, a “queer-led non-profit organization focused on creating a safer environment for people of all sexual identities and all expressions of gender in hockey.”

Alphabet Sports Collective arrives at time when hockey is, once again, perhaps feeling like it’s not for everyone.

For years, NHL teams had been hosting Pride Nights and wearing Pride jerseys during warm-ups with zero significant issue. But in January, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers declined to wear a Pride jersey, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. Then, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild reneged on their commitments to wear Pride jerseys during their Pride Nights.

The Wild claimed they were protecting their Russian players from reprisals from new anti-gay Russian laws.

San Jose Hockey Now caught up with Gabriel on Friday, on the eve of the Sharks’ own Pride Night on Saturday. The Sharks have stated that they will wear Pride jerseys, but it’s not clear if every player will wear them.

Gabriel revealed the real reason why he retired so early, the Alphabet Sports Collective’s larger goals, his thoughts on the pushback surrounding Pride jerseys, his personal experiences with Provorov and his memories of his time with the Sharks.

Kurtis Gabriel, on how he’s doing in retirement:

It’s great. Definitely was meant to happen the way it happened. Feel very grateful for that.
Just enjoying not waking up every day, having that looming threat of physical nature, whether it’s a fight or hitting or the crazy, hard and intense workouts.

After that, just having time to look into yourself more, more free time to grow and not…

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