The 'lonely' feeling has Wayne Simmonds determined for change

The 'lonely' feeling has Wayne Simmonds determined for change

Wayne Simmonds remembers the sting of the racist acts against him.

They still sting. They might sting even more now than they did then.

Simmonds, one of the most prominent black players in the NHL, a two-time 30-plus-goal scorer and the 2017 All-Star Game MVP, has dealt with racism throughout his playing career. While with the Flyers during a 2011-12 exhibition game in London, Ontario, Simmonds had a banana peel thrown at him as he made a shootout attempt (he scored, too). During a game in the Czech Extraliga amid the NHL lockout in 2012, Simmonds was the target of racist chants. Those experiences and the current issues of racism and racial injustice in today's society are reasons why Simmonds is standing up and speaking out.

And ready to spark change.

On Monday, Simmonds, along with Chris Stewart, who is in the Flyers' organization, and other pro players Akim Aliu, Evander Kane, Trevor Daley, Matt Dumba and Joel Ward, announced the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an initiative to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey."

"We will strive to be a force for positive change not only within our game of hockey, but also within society," the Hockey Diversity Alliance stated as part of its mission.

Simmonds knows change can come and the keys to accomplishing it: Within the game, black players need the support and action of white players.

I think my message has been more just education," Simmonds said Monday in a video interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark. "Ask one of your minority teammates what they’ve gone through to get to this point. I know when things happened to me, I remember being in London, Ontario, and I had a banana peel thrown at me. It gets kind of lonely when you’re the only black face on the team or minority face on the team.

"To me, it’s important if you’re trying to help the cause, you’ve kind of got to know where we’re coming from and at the same time, not be silent and help us push this thing forward, because at the end of the day, we’re all one. We’re all striving for the same thing, which is equality in our social world. I think that’s the biggest thing — education and kind of just trying to find out something that’s different from what you’re used to.

"We know it’s going to be an uncomfortable situation, conversation, but I think for us to advance these talks, we’re going to have to have tough talks. That’s my biggest message in the education form of it.

The instances in London, Ontario, and the Czech Republic were emotionally painful for Simmonds. Not just the racist acts but also the aftermath, the lack of response.

“It sucks," he said. "Every time it has happened to me, it’s been crazy, to be honest with you. In London, I got a banana thrown at me in the middle of a penalty shot. You kind of don’t know what to think, but at the same time, you go back into the locker room and guys are like, ‘That’s crazy, that’s crazy.’ You’ve got to put on a brave face and no one really knows how you feel on the inside. You can’t find the words sometimes to explain to people how you really feel. And if they’ve never had it happen to them, they don’t know how you feel exactly.

"Going to the one that happened to me in Czech Republic, I think that’s where the ‘silence is violence’ thing is. I’m in Czech Republic, they’re chanting in Czech, I don’t know what they’re saying, and the thing that disturbed me the most about that was that my teammates didn’t even tell me on the team. So I had no clue, the only way I knew was I read it in the paper, I read something on the internet. That’s how I found out. I think to find something out that way when a whole crowd is chanting monkey at you is extremely disturbing. They could have had the decency to tell me.

"I think that’s when the silence part comes in and that completely rubbed me the wrong way. It hurt.”

The 31-year-old Simmonds played for the Devils and Sabres this season. He played parts of eight seasons with the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia means a lot to him.

When asked for his message right now to the people of Philly, Simmonds said:

I think I would just say stand up when something is wrong. You see an injustice happening, don’t sit there and let it happen, say something. Because if you don’t and you let it happen, I’m not going to say you’re just as complicit as the person that’s doing it, but you’re not a part of the solution, you’re definitely a part of the problem. Whether it’s in this or in life, you’ve got to stand up for what you think is right for humanity's sake.

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2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

The Flyers have earned at least a point against every Eastern Conference team this season except one:

The Lightning.

On Saturday at Scotiabank Arena, the Flyers will meet Tampa Bay in what has become the East's round-robin championship of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

In the round-robin fight for top seeding, the Flyers have set themselves up well with a 4-1 victory over the Bruins and a 3-1 decision over the Capitals.

"I think it’s just important to play the right way and keep building on this momentum we’re gaining right now," Sean Couturier said in a video interview Thursday night after the Flyers' win over Washington. "We want to win, we want to finish the highest possible seed, but I think as long as we’re at our best once the real playoffs start, that’s the biggest thing."

Let's answer four questions heading into Saturday's showdown against the Lightning:

What's on the line?

The winner of the game will earn the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser will settle for the No. 2 seed.

Both seeds are obviously advantageous, but there's certainly a difference between them. The No. 1 seed will hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. With no fans, that distinction still holds importance because home teams are awarded the last line change in games, which can be critical to matchups when outcomes are in the balance.

Below are the current round-robin standings:

1. Lightning — 2-0-0, four points
1. Flyers — 2-0-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

Who could Flyers play in 1st round?

Given they will finish with either one of the East's top two seeds, the Flyers cannot face the fifth-seeded Penguins or sixth-seeded Hurricanes in the first round.

It's still possible the Flyers can face the No. 7 Islanders, No. 8 Maple Leafs, No. 9 Blue Jackets, No. 10 Panthers or No. 12 Canadiens in the first round.

If the Flyers earn the No. 1 seed, they'll meet the lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round. If they're the No. 2 seed, they'll get the second-lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round.

Here's the latest on the best-of-five qualifying series:

No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets (CBJ leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 8 p.m. ET)

No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers (NYI leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, noon ET)

No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers (CAR wins 3-0)

No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 4 p.m. ET)

When are final round-robin games?

The Flyers-Lightning round-robin game is Saturday but the start time is TBD. We'll know the time of puck drop at some point Friday.

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (start time TBD).

The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

How do Flyers fare vs. Lightning?

Among the round-robin teams, the second-seeded Lightning were the club that gave the Flyers the most trouble in the regular season. The Flyers dropped two games in regulation to Tampa Bay — albeit one was a 1-0 defeat and the other was a chippy 5-3 loss with an empty-netter during the final 22 seconds.

The Lightning can flat-out score, putting up a league-best 3.47 goals per game during the regular season.

However, the Flyers hung with Tampa Bay in other statistical categories and didn't have trade deadline acquisitions Derek Grant or Nate Thompson during the two regular-season matchups.

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NHL playoffs: Flyers fans are losing their minds after win against Capitals

NHL playoffs: Flyers fans are losing their minds after win against Capitals

Yo, the Flyers. 

We can’t get enough of this team right now — but can you blame us? After entering the round robin as the fourth seed, its 3-1 win against the Capitals on Thursday now guarantees at least the second seed moving forward. Top of the East will be on the line Saturday when the Flyers face the Lightning. 

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start acknowledging Alain Vigneault’s team for all that it is this season — but if you’re a Flyers fan, being the underdog is nothing new.

This team does more than simply go through the motions. Its chemistry is off the charts and makes for an entertaining game from start to finish. 

Now, having a 2-0-0 record in the round robin so far, reality is setting in across the league about just how talented this team is. Even if you’ve been keeping an eye on the Flyers, it’s been a long time since the franchise has seen a roster with this much talent — so, it’s OK if you’re still in shock. 

Running over the Capitals though certainly started to put things into perspective for Flyers fans. 

Who knows what this game would have looked like without the line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny? 

Well, we’ll never know … and that’s a wonderful thing. The Flyers’ second line dominated play and combined for eight points on the day. Since they seem like an inseparable line, is it time to start thinking about nicknames for it? 

It has to have something to do with chirping, don’t you think?

The Capitals also had a lot riding on this game. After an overtime loss to the Lightning earlier in the week, this was essentially a must-win. 

And if the players didn’t realize that during the game (their six minor penalties sure made it seem like that) — fans certainly made enough noise following the loss. 

Oh, did I mention Alex Ovechkin didn’t tally a single point against the Flyers in five games this season? Just something to think about. 

Buckle up Flyers fans, this is only the beginning. 

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