Beloved former Capital Devante Smith-Pelly returned to DC back in February, dropping the ceremonial first puck for the Caps’ Black history celebration.
Now, fans can see more of DSP’s return to the district in the most recent episode of the Capitals’ Beyond Hockey series. The feature goes in-depth on the team’s Black history night and Smith-Pelly’s reaction to rejoining the Capitals for the event.
The video opens with Smith-Pelly reminiscing on his time with the Capitals, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“I loved playing here. I love the fanbase. To win the Stanley Cup, first time in franchise history obviously that’s pretty historic,” he said. “I guess they kind of took to me after that.”
He also had the opportunity to reflect on the impact his presence on the 2018 roster had on the wider DC community.
“Going to the parade and seeing black parents and black kids is something I take pride in, I’m proud of in a way,” Smith-Pelly said. “You know maybe in 10, 15 years we’ll have an NHL player from this area who got inspired by that run or the parade.”
The visit marked DSP’s first return to DC since announcing his retirement from professional hockey in December. After leaving the Capitals organization, Smith-Pelly spent time in both the KHL and the AHL. During his tenure with the Ontario Reign, he was part of the first all-Black line in pro hockey since the 1940s.
“It’s just nothing but obviously amazing memories,” Smith-Pelly said of his time with the Capitals. “Looking forward to seeing the fans and who knows how I’ll react tomorrow when I actually step out there. It’s a nice little end off of my career. That could be the closure, you know what I mean?”
Despite playing in the Stanley Cup finals, DSP noted that he was more nervous for the ceremonial puck drop than for any match in his career.
“I’ve never been nervous for a game ever, so it’s kind of funny that I’m nervous for this side.”
Fans greeted Smith-Pelly with rousing applause during the ceremony and frequently came up to him afterward for autographs and pictures. DSP was also able to see his helmet in the Black Hockey History Display within Capital One Arena.
Smith-Pelly’s participation at the Black history celebration went beyond just the arena events. Prior to the game, he joined the team at practice to learn more about Black history within the Capitals organization.
Current players gave Smith-Pelly a warm welcome at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. Big smiles abounded in the locker room, with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and TJ Oshie all rushing to greet their former teammate.
“It’s cool to see him in DC, back in the room,” said Tom Wilson of Smith-Pelly’s return. “It’s been a while. He’s obviously a big fan favorite, scored some huge goals for us, a good friend of mine and just a really good teammate.”
Alongside Smith-Pelly was Kwame Mason, director of Soul On Ice: Past, Present, & Future, a film detailing the history of Black players in ice hockey. Mason spoke to the team on the 11 Black players in Capitals franchise history. Two of those 11 were on the Stanley Cup-winning roster in 2018: Smith-Pelly and Madison Bowey..
“Our community loves the game just like anybody else,” Mason said in the feature. “Our community just wants to be invited and included as much as the Washington Capitals have included 11 Black players in its history.”
Robert Zilla, who designed the Capitals’ jerseys for the Black history celebration, spoke on his design, which features 11 stripes for the 11 players, to the players. Zilla’s jerseys were auctioned off to benefit the team’s Capital Impact Fund, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in hockey.
The presentation to players also featured the music video for “Caps 11” by Saukrates, a song created to celebrate the history of the team’s black players.
After the game concluded, Smith-Pelly further remarked on his legacy in the Capitals hockey community.
“I talked to a good amount of people today who said my representation, me being out there, is the reason they got into hockey,” he said. “That only makes the game better when a lot more people from different backgrounds play the game.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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