WASHINGTON -- Divyne Apollon II and his Metro Maple Leafs teammates never imagined that standing up for each other in the face of racism would lead to all of this.
The players on the 14-and-under travel hockey team based in Odenton, Maryland were only doing what they thought was right.
But it led to them visiting the Washington Capitals locker room on Monday, meeting players such as captain Alex Ovechkin, defenseman John Carlson and forward Devante Smith-Pelly, and going home with the memory of a lifetime.
"It was fun," Apollon II said. "Meeting all the players and having my teammates looking happy and being happy. It was fun."
The Capitals invited the Metro Maple Leafs to their game against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena on Monday after Smith-Pelly and Carlson read the story about what happened to them during a youth hockey tournament on Dec. 29.
When Apollon II faced racial taunts during a game against a team from Pennsylvania, his teammates stood up for the 13-year-old defenseman, which led to a fight. After Apollon II was suspended for the remainder of the tournament for his part in the fight, his teammates put logos on their sticks with the word "Racism" crossed out by a hockey stick.
The players' parents also wore stickers with the logos to support Apollon II.
"I read it in the news and I was thinking about doing something and actually was approached by [Carlson], who said, 'Let's invite these kids to the game and try to do something for them.'" Smith-Pelly said. "So, we came up with the idea just to have the whole team and meet the kids and say hello."
Smith-Pelly heard similar language growing up playing hockey in Scarborough, Ontario and was the target of racial taunts by four fans during a game in Chicago last season. Smith-Pelly wanted to be sure Apollon II was not deterred by the actions of a few.
"He said just keep my head up and don't worry about things like that," Apollon II said.
In addition to meeting Ovechkin, Carlson, Smith-Pelly, the Metro Metro Maple Leafs met goaltender Braden Holtby, defensemen Brooks Orpik and Madison Bowey and forwards Travis Boyd and Jakub Vrana. Ovechkin, Carlson, Smith-Pelly and Holtby gave Apollon II signed sticks. Apollon II passed Holtby's stick along to Metro Maple Leafs goaltender Alex Auchincloss because Holtby is Auchincloss' favorite player.
"By doing what you did, you were standing for each other, standing up for yourselves," Carlson told the Metro Maple Leafs before he and Smith-Pelly posed for a photo with the team. "That's what we need to move forward. I think that's important. That's good message to send everyone. And you guys are just kids and you made things right."
Divyne Apollon Sr. couldn't help smiling watching his son and his teammates be recognized for standing up against racism.
"It shows that there's goodness in people," Apollon Sr. said. "Even in a time in a time of disparity, it's great that something like this could take place and they're all having a good time now and everyone's laughing and giggling."