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Capitals surprise youth team that backed black player after racial taunts

Invitation from Smith-Pelly, Carlson to game vs. Blues recognizes 'there are people who have your back'

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Message for the Metro Maple Leafs

Message for the Metro Maple Leafs

The Metro Maple Leafs hear from John Carlson and Devante Smith-Pelly that they are invited to come and watch the Washington Capitals

  • 01:49 •

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Devante Smith-Pelly read a Washington Post article about what happened to Divyne Apollon II and his Metro Maple Leafs teammates during a youth hockey tournament on Dec. 29, the Washington Capitals forward wanted to do something to show his support.

Apollon, a 13-year-old defenseman on the Metro Maple Leafs, a 14-and-under travel team based in Odenton, Maryland, faced racial taunts during a game against a team from Pennsylvania. Outraged by their opponent's behavior, Apollon's teammates stood up for him, leading to a fight at the end of the game.

After Apollon 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 parents of the players wore stickers with the logos to support Apollon.

To recognize Apollon and his teammates, Smith-Pelly and Capitals defenseman John Carlson invited the Metro Maple Leafs to Washington's game against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; SNE, SNO, SNP, NBCSWA, FS-MW, NHL.TV). Smith-Pelly and Carlson delivered the news in a video message Tuesday.

"It's crazy that's still going on in 2019, but I really like how he stood up for himself and how the team had his back too," Smith-Pelly said Wednesday. "For 13-year-old kids to put a foot in the sand and stand up for their teammate at 13 years old, that's pretty remarkable. So I liked reading that part of him standing up for himself and his whole team, a team of kids, standing up for him, too."

Smith-Pelly had similar experiences growing up playing hockey in Scarborough, Ontario, but, unfortunately, it didn't end there. The 26-year-old was the target of racial taunts by four fans during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center last season.

"I went through something similar, so it would be nice to talk to [Apollon] face to face," Smith-Pelly said. "The people on his team stood up for him, but they don't really know [what it's like]. So maybe it would be cool to talk to him one-on-one, being someone who understands. Bringing the team also is recognition. What they did was amazing, standing up for their teammate like that, so we wanted to recognize that as well."

Smith-Pelly was quick to note that his Capitals teammates also supported him after the incident in Chicago last season. He believes that's an important part of the story as well.

"The other kids on the team stood up for him, Guys on our team stood up for me and had my back," Smith-Pelly said. "So for every dummy that's out there that's ignorant and thinks that way, there are people who have your back that will stand beside you."

Carlson said inviting Apollon and the rest of the Metro Maple Leafs to the Capitals' game on Monday was, "just a nice thing to do for what seems like a great kid that loves the same game as us." It also sends the message that the Capitals stand with Apollon and his teammates against racism.

"I think, especially when it's a kid, you really want to make sure that you're showing your support and you're with him through that," Carlson said. "We were with [Smith-Pelly], too. He knows who has his back and that's us in this room."

Video courtesy Washington Capitals

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