ANAHEIM -- Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals met NHL pioneer Willie O'Ree for the first time Tuesday, and said they discussed the Feb. 17 incident when Chicago Blackhawks fans used racist taunts against Smith-Pelly during a game at United Center in Chicago.
"We talked about what happened in Chicago and he said he had obviously gone through it," Smith-Pelly, 25, said before Washington played the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV) to begin a three-game California trip. "How he dealt with it. And he said he liked the way I dealt with it."
On Jan. 18, 1958, O'Ree became the first black player in NHL history. He has been the diversity ambassador for the League's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative for 20 years.
"I was surprised at this point, I hadn't met him," said Smith-Pelly, who began his NHL career with the Ducks in 2011-12. "… It was good to talk to him. We talked about that (Chicago) for a little bit. Just meeting him … he's an 82-year-old man. He looks great for his age and he's still got tons of energy. I could just see how much he loves doing what he's doing."
Smith-Pelly was in the penalty box serving a five-minute major for fighting in the third period of Washington's 7-1 loss when the incident occurred. Four fans were ejected from the arena by security personnel shortly afterward.
"We're at a time now where we can't brush it under the rug," Smith-Pelly said after the incident.
O'Ree has said he heard taunts during his NHL career and had things thrown at him in the penalty box. In one game against Chicago, an opponent used a racial slur at O'Ree and butt-ended him in the mouth, knocking out two teeth.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz invited O'Ree to join the team meeting and speak to the players before the morning skate at Honda Center.
"He was good," Trotz said. "He had some old-school stories which is always great. He's a builder in our League, if you think about it. He broke a lot of the barriers when he first started playing and he continues to do that to this day. He's almost a legendary builder in the game."
Trotz said he believes O'Ree, a forward who had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 45 NHL games, all with the Boston Bruins, should be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category.
"You build this game in different ways," Trotz said. "Like I said, if I had a vote, I would vote. You might have a vote. You should vote. Any way you can make the game better and have a big influence on this game, then you should be a Hall of Famer."