Devante Smith-Pelly is the Capitals nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The news was announced by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association Tuesday morning. Brett Connolly was the team’s honoree last season.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded every year to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. The award was named after Bill Masterton, who is the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of injuries suffered during a game.
A 42nd overall pick in the 2010 draft, Smith-Pelly has played parts of nine seasons in the NHL representing four different teams. After being bought out of a two-year contract the day before free agency, Smith-Pelly was picked up by the Capitals on a one-year, two-way deal. The Scarborough, Ontario-native was not guaranteed a roster spot, yet he made the Capitals roster out of training camp and has since appeared in 69 games.
During the preseason, Smith-Pelly shared his thoughts on the controversial protests that captured the nation’s attention. While NFL players kneeled during the national anthem, marches were held for racial justice. The Lightning’s JT Brown raised his fist to call attention to racial injustice. Smith-Pelly spoke to The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur and opened up about the loneliness that comes with being one of only roughly 30 black players in the NHL.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of a lonely feeling,” Smith-Pelly said to Arthur. “I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you’re really by yourself.”
Smith Pelly’s comments did not fall on deaf ears as his teammates offered support if he chose to protest during the national anthem.
In February, Smith-Pelly volunteered his time, along with Madison Bowey and Brooks Orpik, to host the Fort DuPont Cannons at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The Cannons are the oldest minority youth hockey program in North America. The players also presented the Cannons with a $22,000 check after the skating session.
Later in the month Chicago, Smith-Pelly was subjected to a racially-charged taunt from four Blackhawks fans in the penalty box. The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reported that the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” towards DSP. The fans were ejected after United Center staff was alerted and later banned from attending future games.
A few days after the incident, Smith-Pelly called the fans’ comments “disgusting.”
“We can’t brush [racism] under the rug,” Smith-Pelly said. “It’s, you’ve got to start calling people out and making sure people see other people’s true colors. So, that’s what I’m trying, to get the conversation started, and show whoever these people were their true colors.”
Blackhawks fans, to distance themselves from the few racist fans and show support, held an online fundraiser for Smith-Pelly’s charity of choice. A week after Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Rosenbloom wrote about the idea, Blackhawks fans raised $23,000 via 353 donors. Rosenbloom asked Smith-Pelly where he’d like the money donated to and the Capitals forward picked Fort Dupont Ice Arena – the rink that hosts the Cannons in Washington DC.
Just wanted to say a huge thanks to @steverosenbloom and all the hockey fans in Chicago who have contributed and supported the Fort DuPont program in DC. I appreciate all the support that I have received from my teammates and so many in the hockey community.
— Devante Smith-Pelly (@smithpelly23) February 23, 2018
Devante Smith-Pelly arrived in Washington on a two-way contract. Through hard work and dedication to the sport, he became a pivotable and indispensable member of the team, playing anywhere in the lineup from the first to the bottom line. Smith-Pelly spoke his mind with grace about national conversations involving race, and kept his cool later when confronted by racist fans. His handling of such episodes and speaking out makes him a role model to younger athletes and a leading voice in the NHL.
Other nominees include:
- Anaheim Ducks – Not yet announced
- Arizona Coyotes – Jakob Chychrun
- Boston Bruins – David Backes
- Buffalo Sabres – Kyle Okposo
- Calgary Flames – Matt Stajan
- Carolina Hurricanes – Jordan Staal
- Chicago Blackhawks – Jeff Glass
- Colorado Avalanche – Not yet announced
- Columbus Blue Jackets – Zach Werenski
- Dallas Stars – Mattias Janmark
- Detroit Red Wings – Not yet announced
- Edmonton Oilers – Not yet announced
- Florida Panthers – Roberto Luongo
- Los Angeles Kings – Dustin Brown
- Minnesota Wild – Matt Cullen
- Montreal Canadiens – Antti Niemi
- Nashville Predators – Austin Watson
- New Jersey Devils – Brian Boyle
- New York Islanders – Josh Bailey
- New York Rangers – Chris Kreider
- Ottawa Senators – Mark Borowiecki
- Philadelphia Flyers – Claude Giroux
- Pittsburgh Penguins – Kris Letang
- Saint Louis Blues – Carter Hutton
- San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton
- Tampa Bay Lighting – Steven Stamkos
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Roman Polak
- Vancouver Canucks – Derek Dorsett
- Vegas Golden Knight – Brad Hunt
- Washington Capitals – Devante Smith-Pelly
- Winnipeg Jets – Tyler Myers
Headline Image: Cara Bahniuk
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