The number that popped up on Luke Prokop’s cell phone was a strange one, an unidentified European number. It was the kind of call that — under normal circumstances — the Nashville Predators defenseman prospect wouldn’t pick up, figuring it for a telemarketer or scammer.
But this time he had been warned: Pick up your phone.
Because, on the other end of the call, was Elton John.
It was July 20, the day after Prokop had announced on social media that he was gay, making the 19-year-old the first player under contract to an NHL team to come out. When Prokop woke up that morning, around 8:30 or 9 a.m., there had been three missed calls from his agent Gerry Johansson and two more from Phoebe Balshin, who works in marketing and sponsorships for Johansson’s agency, The Sports Corporation.
They wanted to alert him.
“I was like, hold on, wait a second, is this for real?” Prokop said.
He took a shower, ate breakfast, was getting ready for the gym, when the French number came in. The caller identified himself as Elton.
“We just had a really good conversation,” Prokop said. “He congratulated me, just asked me how the day was, how the support was, and then he thanked me for being brave and coming out. It was a really cool conversation.”
While he was talking to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Prokop’s mother was in the living room, and she heard the name “Elton.” She gave him a weird look. He hung up.
“I was like, Mom, you’ll never guess who phoned me,” Prokop said. “Mom, that was Elton John. She started screaming, like, what? She almost started breaking down. She was probably more excited for me than I was for myself to get that call.”
Prokop said he has always been a huge fan of John’s work, having watched “Rocketman” – the 2019 biopic about John — at least four times. And even more so now.
Prokop was selected in the third round (No. 73) of the 2020 NHL Draft and plays for Calgary of the Western Hockey League. He said it meant a lot for John to reach out to him. To congratulate him. To make sure he was OK.
“It was really cool for someone to do that kind of really outside of the hockey world,” Prokop said. “To see someone that big, that famous, who has a humungous impact on the LGBTQ+ community to reach out and phone me and thank me for being brave and coming out and being able to help kids going through what I went through and allowing them to have someone to look up to, in a sense. He thanked me for that.
“I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand how cool that was and how important that was that he called me.”
John wasn’t the only person who reached out to Prokop. He mentioned talking to Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose son Brendan came out in 2009 before his 2010 death in a car accident. He mentioned a text message from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews that was so stunning to Prokop that he dropped his phone.
But it was hard to compare anything to the impact of John.
And Prokop made sure to say that he would like to pay it forward, to ensure that any kid interested in talking to him could contact him through social media, where he could lend an ear or a bit of advice, if it might help.
“If kids have questions or anyone has questions, I’m a very open person,” Prokop said. “I’ll definitely get back to them, whether they just want to talk or they’re going through something and they want another voice or they just want to be heard. I’m someone who takes pride in that.
“I just want to be able to provide a voice for people to feel comfortable.”
Like John did.
Before they got off the phone, John and Prokop exchanged contact information.
“He said if I ever need anything or I just want to talk about anything, he said that he’ll make time to talk to me and be there for me if I have any questions,” Prokop said. “So that was something that was really cool as well.”
A highlight amid so many other highlights.
“It’s been probably the best 10 days of my life,” Prokop said.