TORONTO, April 30 (Reuters) - The National Hockey League (NHL) has been preparing for years for the first gay player to come out in public and that groundwork may be about to pay off after the NBA's Jason Collins opened the door to a new era.

Collins, a veteran basketball player, stepped into the national spotlight on Monday when became the first male athlete in a major U.S. professional league to publicly reveal he is gay. That is expected to be the first of many similar announcements in the coming months in major sports leagues.