ARLINGTON, Va. -- Being on the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex with youth players from the Fort DuPont Cannons Hockey Club on Saturday reminded Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly of how his time in the Skills Hockey School in Toronto helped lead him to the NHL.
That program helped produce several NHL players, including Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley, Calgary Flames forward Chris Stewart and former forward Anthony Stewart.
"They grew up around the block from me and they were all successful in the League," Smith-Pelly said. "So, me being a younger guy, I looked up to all those guys and being at the same camp as them kind of opened my eyes to that this is possible."
The 26-year-old hoped to provide a similar inspiration at the Capitals' clinic with the Fort Dupont Cannons, who give inner-city youth in the Washington area the opportunity to participate in organized ice hockey. Smith-Pelly was joined on the ice by Capitals defensemen Madison Bowey and Brooks Orpik and forward Chandler Stephenson, who helped the Cannons coaches run drills.
"I think it's just really special to see them smile and how happy the kids are and just to show them that this game is for everyone," Bowey said. "Anyone can make the most of their opportunity, anyone can play in the NHL, and just to remind of them of that and to show them the love and passion for the game is important."
The Capitals presented the Cannons with a $18,000 check on behalf of Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation made possible by a grant from the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation. Cannons coach Neal Henderson, who founded the club in 1978, said the money will help pay for bus trips, equipment and ice time at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.
Plans for renovating the arena are in jeopardy because of a funding issue, so Henderson is grateful for the support the Cannons receive from the Capitals and the NHL. He said the club has about 50-55 players, ages 8-17, this season.
"Some of these players didn't sleep for two days because they were excited to come here," Henderson said. "It really boosts the morale to see the pros come out and work with them because they see them on TV and to be able to talk to them, have them relate to them, tell them stories about how they came along when they started, what they loved about the game, how they felt their life would be improved by the game, these things help them in so many different ways."