Prokop reflects on the year since he came out as gay
Since making the announcement on social media on July 19, 2021, Prokop has been traded from one Western Hockey League team to another, won that league’s championship, participated in the Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup tournament, wore rainbow colored skates, received two humanitarian awards and became an inspiration and role model within the LGBTQ+ community around the world, both inside and outside of sport.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said the 20-year-old Nashville Predators prospect. “It seems like a long time ago, but it’s only a positive experience for me. It’s really amazing how my teammates have been with me, even opponents. Some were coming towards me during the game. warming up and congratulating me.”
Prokop said the 2021-22 season was “by far the most fun hockey year I’ve ever had.” He played free, freed from a secret and finally able to be himself for his family, friends and teammates.
The sense of freedom allowed him to have 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 58 regular season WHL games with the Calgary Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings, who traded for the defenseman in October and brought him to his hometown team.
Prokop helped propel Edmonton to the Ed Chynoweth Cup when they beat Seattle in six games for the WHL Championship. In the playoffs, he was tied for sixth with the Oil Kings with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 19 games.
“I think my confidence kind of exploded after coming out,” he said, “and it’s been really great to see my performance on the ice moving in a positive direction and being much more consistent. than it had been in the past.”
Prokop’s performances and presence also help to debunk a long-held belief in the sport that having an LBGTQ+ player on a team would destroy their chemistry and create tension and suspicion in the locker room.
Oil Kings forward Josh Williams said bringing Prokop to the team had the opposite effect.
“Luke inspired a lot of guys on the team,” Williams said. “Seeing how vulnerable he was at the start to see him be himself. Seeing him do that is super brave. In the room, we treated him like any other player: he’s part of our family is one of our brothers.”
Jalen Luypen, an Oil Kings forward and Chicago Blackhawks prospect, said, “We changed our mentality as a group and protected Luke at all costs.
“We just fell in love with him. He’s just an awesome guy. … We knew if anything was said to Luke, we’d do anything for him.”
Prokop’s impact over the past year has extended beyond the ice. He agreed to be an LGBTQ+ advocate and role model. He was instrumental in developing the Oil Kings’ Pride Day opener on April 9. As part of the event, he teamed up with Bauer and had a pair of custom skates made in the colors of the rainbow.
In June, Prokop received Humanitarian of the Year awards from the WHL and CHL for his advocacy of inclusion in hockey and all sports, and for his charitable contributions to his community.
He created a program that donated $10 for each of his shots on goal to Kids Help Phonewhich he says provides a vital service as a support mechanism for young people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Prokop said he heard members of the LGBTQ+ community tell him they were moved by his coming out, which impacted their decision to do the same.
“I was getting messages from people in Australia, Sweden, all over Europe,” he said. “It was great to see that my message and my story went this far because my goal was, obviously, to help be who I was, but to have a bit of an impact for kids who were like me. growing up, not really knowing much about their sexuality, questioning it, stuff like that.
“It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I kind of got used to it,” Prokop said of the attention. “It was really great to hear other people’s stories.”
One of those stories belongs to Jason Shaya. The play-by-play broadcaster of Utica, American Hockey League affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, came out publicly gay in October 2021influenced by Prokop’s decision.
“Luke’s courage to come out was deeply motivating and inspiring to me,” Shaya said. “It was also the overwhelmingly positive response he received from everyone in hockey that helped me make my decision. He messaged me after I came out, and it was an elegant gesture. from someone who realizes the responsibility of helping people like me feel like they have an ally in the business. Without Luke, I’m not sure I would have done what I did do.
Joey Gale and Steven Thompson, founders of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association, said they were impressed that Prokop took the time to meet with them during the WHL playoffs.
“Luke’s bravery to live his truth gives me hope,” Gale said. “It’s always disappointing to find comments on social media like ‘Leave it out of hockey’ or ‘Why can’t we just play sports? “And to those I say: LGBTQ+ kids need a hero too.”
Prokop said he draws inspiration from those he inspires and uses that as fuel to help him achieve his goal.
“I want to be the first openly gay player to play in the NHL,” he said. “And I want to be that role model for the kids that they can look up to, that they can go to an NHL rink, and they can watch me play and say, ‘I want to be like him when I grow up. .’ “
Photos: Andy Devlin/Shandy Lo/Edmonton Oil Kings