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Predators prospect Luke Prokop: 'I feel like a new version of me' after coming out

USA TODAY
USA TODAY
 2021-09-23

Luke Prokop is only 19 years old?

Could have fooled me.

I’d have guessed mid-20s, maybe older. Prokop – at 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds – seems remarkably grown-up for his age. He doesn’t look or sound like a teenager or a third-round defenseman at a Nashville Predators rookie camp , skating his hardest to catch the big club’s attention while years away from playing in an NHL game.

You can tell that he’s getting used to the attention and the calls from celebs like Elton John and the interviews and fielding questions from people like me – who aren’t asking him much about hockey and probably won't for a while yet .

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My guess is that Prokop will continue to patiently smile and tell everyone else what he told me last week: "I couldn’t be happier with my decision to come out."

"I just feel more confident. I feel sort of like a new version of me. It’s one that I’m hoping will last for a long time.”

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=140vpX_0c5nAVGd00
Predators prospect Luke Prokop became the first player under NHL contract to come out as gay Monday. Courtesy Nashville Predators

This type of answer shows how much all this had been weighing on Prokop prior to July 19, when he came out publicly as gay to international acclaim. The Predators’ prospect thus became the first openly gay player with an active NHL contract.

How has it been for him since then?

At first, Prokop said his life really hadn't changed much. “If anything has changed,” he said, “it’s just I’m more myself than I was in a long time."

But then he talked about the ways things have changed for the better. He spoke at length about feeling, basically, like a new person. That’s everywhere, too, including on the ice.

Yes, he believes that his coming out has improved his hockey.

“I’ve never felt better on the ice,” he said. “I just feel more confident, in a sense, and I think that’s just being OK with who I am. I had struggled with confidence issues in the past, and with everything that’s gone on, I feel like I’ve overcome that and sort of created a little bit of a new identity. I think it shows on the ice.”

Prokop wasn’t the top prospect on last week’s rookie camp roster for the Predators, but he wasn't at the bottom of the list either. We'll hear more from him in the future. No guarantees, but he’ll have a shot to make the NHL club and play in Bridgestone Arena one day.

With his size and reputation as a stay-at-home defenseman, Prokop said he’d like to expand his abilities offensively to be able to improve that part of his game. He is working his way up the ladder and planning to spend the coming season back with his Western Hockey League team in Calgary, which isn’t far from his home city of Edmonton.

Prior to his coming out, Prokop already had told the Predators’ management he was gay. Their support, in fact, gave him additional courage to go through with the announcement: “Once they had my back and came out with their support, I knew that I was ready for it.”

Prokop said he expected a large response at the time, but the magnitude of it was greater than he’d imagined.

“I really wanted to show people around the world that it’s OK to be who you are,” he said. “… I got messages from people in Sweden and people in Germany, Australia. It was all over the place, and it was different people.”

Responses have mostly been supportive, he said.

“Obviously, there’s a few negative comments, but those are kind of the trolls in their mom’s basement or whatever,” he said. “I got to the point now where I just kind of laugh at those comments. They are sort of funny to me.

“The response has been extremely positive, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes .

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Predators prospect Luke Prokop: 'I feel like a new version of me' after coming out

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