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Capitals welcome Black Girl Hockey Club for inaugural outing

Meeting players, Q&A with officials highlight trip to see Washington's victory against Sabres

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Black Girl Hockey Club's inaugural outing turned out to be bigger than founder Renee Hess dreamed.

What began a few months ago as a callout on social media for other black female hockey fans turned into a gathering of more than 40 attending the Washington Capitals' 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena on Saturday.

Hess, 39, traveled from Riverside, California to be with a group that ranged in age from 6 to 91.

Several were hockey moms who brought their hockey-playing sons and daughters.

"I personally, living in California, have never seen two black women at a hockey game besides me and my daughter," said Hess, an associate professor of English at La Sierra University in Riverside and a freelance pop culture writer. "I kind of just put out a call out there saying, 'Any black girl hockey fans out there? Let's make a group chat.' And we started there and then I said, 'Let's meet up. Let's go to a game together. That would be so much fun.'"

Although Hess lives in California and is a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, she said a game in Washington made the most sense with many of the club located in the East and because the Capitals, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, have two black players -- forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Madison Bowey -- and two black members of their ownership group -- Earl Stafford and Sheila Johnson.

Hess connected with William Douglas, who runs The Color of Hockey blog, and his wife, Corinne McIntosh-Douglas in Washington, and they helped organize the trip, which turned into a two-day event including tours of the Capitol and the Smithsonian's Museum of African History and Culture.

"It is true when you go to hockey games that you feel like you stand out because you don't see a lot of people of color," said Alexis Arnold, who traveled from Rochester, New York with her 6-year-old son Jaelyn. "When I found out about [Douglas] and his blog and found out there was a group, I wanted to be a part of it to learn more and to celebrate the sport."

Hess credited the NHL, including executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs Kim Davis, and the Capitals with helping make the trip memorable. Before the game, club members enjoyed a brief Q&A with the on-ice officials, including linesman Shandor Alphonso, who is of Trinidad-Jamaican descent.

Stafford, who joined the Capitals ownership group headed by Ted Leonsis in 2011, also addressed the group and brought Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, and his wife Maria Marable-Bunch for their first hockey game.

"I had not known of this organization, a gathering of those you typically wouldn't expect to see at hockey game," Stafford said. "It just encourages me that there are people out there interested in this great sport and we want to tell their story."

The highlights of the trip were watching the Capitals and the Sabres face off and a postgame meet-and-greet with Capitals players, including Smith-Pelly, Bowey, Nic Dowd, Braden Holtby and Brooks Orpik. Smith-Pelly got his 100th NHL point (44 goals, 56 assists) with an assist on Washington's first goal.

Nora Miles, a 91-year-old from Madison, New Jersey who moved to Washington earlier this year, capped her first NHL game by getting her photo taken with Smith-Pelly.

"He's fantastic," Miles said.

The Black Girl Hockey Club is organizing another trip to see the Nashville Predators host the St. Louis Blues as part of a doubleheader with the 2019 National Women's Hockey League All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 10. The New York Rangers have also contacted the club about coming to a game at Madison Square Garden.

"It's awesome any time you can get people to try to grow the game for minorities and women as well," Smith-Pelly said. "That's a good organization that they started and hopefully it gets bigger and they continue to try to change the game."

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