Kurtis Gabriel is what most would know as a hockey player but he is so much more than that. He is a proud ally for the LGBTQ2S+ and Black community. He is constantly supporting, helping, and speaking up while continuing to learn as much as he can about the issues at hand. It is something that is completely admirable especially in the world of sports where athletes have been told in the past to stick to sports.
Kurtis spent the past year with the Philadelphia Flyers AHL affiliate the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Previously he played for the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils. He is entering this offseason as a UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent).
When it comes down to it what I personally admire about Kurtis is that he not only talks the talk but walks the walk. He is passionate when he speaks about what he believes in but never shames someone if they don’t believe the same thing he does. He projects a sense of confidence and positivity in life as well as focuses on the good in things. He works hard to better himself professionally and personally every day no matter what is going on around him. It’s things like this that I admire most in not only an athlete but in a person in general.
Without further ado, meet Kurtis Gabriel!
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I would describe myself as a hardworking, emotional, kind but blunt, loyal man who has the best intentions. I love the game of hockey, and in my pursuit to be the best hockey player I can be, I try to help as many people as I can. I am passionate about nobody being able to tell any other person how to live their life. I spread the message “control what you can control, and do it with love.”
Who or what inspired you to play hockey?
My dad introduced me to hockey, and I always loved it over every other sport. In my opinion, it is one of the two hardest sports to compete in the world, right up there with combat sports, with the combination of skill and grit you need to succeed in it. It was also the most popular sport where I grew up, 40 minutes north of Toronto.
What does an average day look like for you during the season? How does it look right now?
An average day during last season consisted of waking up at 7:30am, and a 15-minute drive to the rink. Breakfast at the rink, followed by a workout, equipment preparation, maybe some stick handling, team video session, and then practice for roughly 1 hour. Stretch, shower up, lunch at the rink. Out of the rink by 12-1pm. After that, it would depend but usually cooking and eating quite a bit, hang out with teammates or attending an event in the community, and watch a hockey game, in bed by 11:30pm. Right now on a Monday in the off-season, I was up at 6:30am for breakfast, update my Instagram story, 5km run, lower body workout, and a skate. Put my gear out to dry in the sun, get home by 12pm, shower, eat lunch, and then I get to work on my brand and activism. Answering emails, making calls with my team, educating myself on LGBTQ2S+ or BLM issues, scheduling and doing podcasts, my youtube vlog. Finish the day face timing my lovely girlfriend, and 30 minutes of Lord of the Rings to shut my mind down for a good sleep at 11pm.
Do you have any game day routines or superstitions? Like certain things you have to do or eat before games.
On game days I like to eat chicken, rice/rice pasta, and broccoli. Sometime Chipotle. I like to have some time to myself to warm up and stickhandle. I like to go on the bench and visualize the coming game, go through a mental checklist. I like to prepare with my trainer if I think I may get in a fight.
What has been your greatest moment in hockey so far? What do you feel has been the hardest thing to overcome in your career so far?
The greatest moment is for sure scoring my second NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens and Carey Price. Was hands down the best feeling I have ever had, and while having Pride Tape on my stick for the first time. The hardest thing I have had to overcome is not playing in the NHL full time to this point.
What prompted you to become an ally and be so vocal about everything surrounding LGBQT+ and BLM?
In Canada and the U.S where I have resided, people fought wars against pure evil. Against people who wanted to take away freedom from us. Thank goodness we triumphed, and many people lost their lives or had their lives forever altered because of it. I cannot stand when some people think they have the right to tell others how to live their lives. Who to love. That they are not equal to the rest of society. We should not be judged for those things. I am extremely passionate, as a formerly naive white cisgender pro hockey player, about fighting back against corrupt, ignorant, misinformed, uneducated, or hateful people.
How have your teammates reacted to your allyship and everything that you do?
My teammates as a whole have been welcoming about my allyship. Some do not talk to me about it, or these issues. Overall a very positive feeling from them and they are mostly my supporters.
How do you feel the league has done with supporting and making things feel inclusive to all? What do you think they can do to make it better?
I think the league has done a good job during return to play with this issue, not condemning players who kneel and allowing Matt Dumba’s speech. I do think however the issue could have been a bit more visible, maybe not so much as in the NBA, but some kind of sign, or representation of the issue on the ice, on the boards, somewhere. This a humanity issue, and I think the NHL could take that stance if they want to avoid most of the political backlash.
What advice would you give to a player or anyone in general who wants to start speaking up more about BLM or LGBQT+ but is afraid to?
I would tell them now, more than ever is the time to get on board with advocating for these issues. I just started a year and a half ago, and have been able to make some positive impact on people’s lives. The approach is just like getting better at hockey. It takes focused, concerted effort, to get uncomfortable, to make a change. If that is too much of a commitment, just do all you can to support the people fighting for change. If you are more of a private person, I get that, but that is easier to let slide. Using your platform and being in the public eye forces you into the fight. It is one of the best things I have ever done.
What’s coming up next for you?
What is next is tomorrow. Continuing to use this strange time in history to better myself in all aspects. I need a new hockey contract and I am eager to speak to teams that I believe need my skillset. Have big things coming eventually from an activism standpoint. We are building something, but like anything it takes time. A skyscraper does not seem to build vertically for a while. You drive past the construction site over and over and there does not seem to be much progress. But one day you go by and all of a sudden, they have built up a few floors. The foundation is what took so long, and once that is in, it grows quick.
Thank you to Kurtis for taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck with your upcoming season!
You can find Kurtis on social media below.