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Happily out, Nashville Predators' Prokop thrives on and off the ice

Patric Hornqvist
Posted at 8:28 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 22:45:16-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — A year ago, Luke Prokop attended Predators development camp with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Then on July 19, 2021 ,the then 19-year-old sent shockwaves around the sports world with an Instagram post announcing he was gay.

Prokop, Nashville’s 2020 third-round selection in the Draft, became the first openly gay player under an NHL contract. The following 12 months have been a whirlwind, full of attention and growth for the defenseman.

“It’s been a journey that I’ll never forget,” Prokop said last week. “It’s changed me, I think, a little bit as a person. I’m open a little bit more about my personality and a lot more confident on and off the ice.”

Reaction to the announcement poured in from around the globe. Prokop says the comments were almost universally supportive.

He says he couldn’t have asked for anything more from the Predators, his Canadian junior club, teammates or fans who stood behind his decision to live his authentic life.

“I was expecting a positive reaction, (but) I don’t think as big as I got,” Prokop said. “But I mean the reaction from outside and inside the hockey community was spectacular. It was so positive. We had a pride night in Edmonton, the first one in the organization’s history, and a lot of (my teammates) came up to me and said that it was the most important game they’ve been a part of.”

Buoyed by that wave of support, Prokop had his best season as a junior after being traded back to his hometown in October. He anchored the blue line, posting a career-high 10 goals and 23 assists while helping lead the Ice Kings to the prestigious Memorial Cup.

Now Prokop believes he’s ready to make the leap from junior hockey into the pros as he looks to vie for a spot in minor league Milwaukee come training camp in September.

“With me being 20, I can go back to junior or move up to pro,” Prokop said. “I’m just going to come into camp with an open mindset, put the trust in their hands – the management – because they know what’s best, I feel like. If they want me to go back down for another year of junior I’m all open for it, but I’m going to make it one helluva decision for them.”

Last week, Prokop returned to Nashville for development camp a much happier and more confident man than he was 12 months earlier. He takes pride in carrying the banner for gay players everywhere.

But while he knows being the first to come out will always be a part of his story, he hopes the narrative will soon shift back to his ability on the ice and the continued pursuit of his lifelong hockey dreams.

“I’m hoping in the future that I’m not so much known as this,” Prokop said. “And just going out and playing my game and playing in the NHL.”