Former Maple Leaf Travis Dermott on using Pride tape, forcing NHL's hand: 'Had to be done'

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Travis Dermott had a lot on his mind as he carefully wrapped the shaft of his hockey stick with rainbow-coloured tape.

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The NHL had dispatched a memo to teams before the season reiterating its ban on altering on-ice gear for warmups and practices to reflect theme nights.

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The Arizona Coyotes defenceman was about to become the first player to defy that edict on supporting social causes — including Pride tape for the LGBTQ community.

And he was going to do it in a game.

“A bunch of thoughts are going through your head,” Dermott said in a phone interview this week. “But not one of them was, ‘Should I do this or shouldn’t I do this?’ It was more, ‘How fast is it going to blow up? How much is it going to blow up? Is anyone even going to notice?’

“It had to be done. I was going to deal with whatever came my way.”

What came his way was an avalanche of support after Dermott sported the tape Saturday in Arizona’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings.

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It also didn’t take long for the NHL to backpedal. The league announced less than 72 hours later its ban on using stick tape to support social causes, including rainbow-coloured Pride tape, had been rescinded.

“I wasn’t happy,” Dermott said of the league’s initial decision. “Since I’ve been a little kid, I thought it was really important to have people to look up to.

“Admirable people to look up to.”

The 26-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., said working for causes away from the rink is great, but on TV under the bright lights is where there’s the most exposure.

“That’s when those little things would be picked up in the most meaningful way, the most powerful way,” he said. “My parents really made it an important lesson that you want to be the best influence you can for the next generation.

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“Felt like that was taken from us a little bit.”

Dr. Kristopher Wells, co-founder of Pride Tape, a leading manufacturer of rainbow-coloured tape, thanked Dermott on social media following the NHL’s reversal, saying a “huge debt of gratitude” was owed.

“Important to be that role model that isn’t just doing the right thing when you’re allowed to do the right thing,” Dermott said. “It’s about making waves when something isn’t going the right way, something isn’t being handled correctly.”

The move against rainbow-coloured tape came after the league received widespread criticism last season when a handful of players opted out of wearing Pride-themed warmup jerseys.

The NHL announced in June teams would no longer wear themed threads — Pride nights, Hockey Fights Cancer and military appreciation celebrations all fall under the same umbrella — before games.

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Then came the decision on Pride tape. Players across the league, including Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, expressed their disappointment publicly.

Dermott, however, was the only one to challenge the rule with actions.

He said standing up for a belief isn’t always easy, but becoming a father for the first time last year — and with another baby on the way — shifted his perspective.

“This got laid out in front of me,” he said. “And with the amount that I care about (the LGBTQ) community and the amount of ties that I had before doing this, and now the amount of people that have come out of the woodwork saying that this affected them in a way that I didn’t even think was possible … it lets you know it was probably the right move.”

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It was also a risk.

Dermott inked a one-year, two-way contract for close to the league minimum in Arizona this summer after an injury-ravaged 2022-23 season with the Vancouver Canucks.

“Not like I’ve really established myself — signed a long-term deal — and because of that was comfortable doing this,” he said. “Definitely some anxious moments where I wasn’t sure how it would impact my career. I had crazy ideas going through my head like, ‘Am I going to get kicked out of the league? Are they going to fine me? Am I going to get suspended?’

“Really didn’t know what the repercussions could be.”

But if things went against him, it was going to be on his terms.

“That alone pushed me to go through with this,” Dermott said. “As well as the support from my team … they gave me the confidence to stand up for what was right.”

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Wells, the Pride Tape co-founder, said earlier this month some NHL players ordered the product after the league’s ban.

Dermott, of course, was one of those waiting for a delivery.

“Whenever I got it, I got it … and I was going to wear it the next game,” said the blueliner, who added most of the Coyotes didn’t know his exact plans in the moment last Saturday.

Then-Philadelphia defenceman Ivan Provorov was the first player to skip warmups in January when the Flyers wore rainbow-coloured jerseys before their Pride night game, citing his Russian Orthodox religion.

A half-dozen NHLers followed for a variety of reasons, while some teams decided against donning Pride jerseys altogether.

Dermott was happy to grab the attention this time.

“Never been the rebellious type,” he said. “A lot of guys get on the front of the newspaper for the wrong reasons.

“But in talking with my family, this definitely isn’t something my daughter would be ashamed of when she’s old enough to understand.”

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