Renee Hess has always been a fan of hockey, but her love of the game grew after she attended her first live game.
"I finally worked up the courage to go to a game and I was hooked, I fell in love with it."
She fell in love with the sport's speed and tenacity, and the vivacious crowds cheering on the players.
"The vibe is upbeat and a lot of fun and the crowds are just - it's amazing, it's so much fun to be at a live game."
Shortly after, she started looking for other women of color who enjoyed watching hockey as much as she did, but she found the task was tougher than expected.
Thus, Black Girl Hockey Club was born.
"I was kind of looking around for other black girls that like hockey and it was hard to find, and so after a year of kind of putting together people and finding out who was where, this came about."
After careful planning, the club chose a spot for their inaugural meetup: A trip to Washington, D.C. to watch the reigning Stanley Cup champions take on the Buffalo Sabres.
"D.C. has two black hockey players, and two black owners and we thought it was the perfect place to have the inaugural meetup for the Black Girl Hockey Club."
The players at the time were Devante Smith-Pelly, who has since been assigned to the Hershey Bears after clearing waivers during the trade deadline, and Madison Bowey, who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings last month in exchange for Nick Jensen.
Hess traveled from her home in Riverside, California to meet with over 40 members in the nation's capital. The group boasted people of all shapes and sizes, aging from 6-91. The group got tours of both the Capitol and the Smithsonian's Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on Friday before heading to the arena for the game on Saturday.
Once they arrived at Capital One Arena, the club held a Q&A with the on-ice officials, and was addressed by Earl Stafford, one of the Capitals' owners of color. Stafford brought with him Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Founding Director of the NMAAHC, who flew in just for the event.
"What it's really convinced me is to think more about how hockey plays a role in shaping this community," Bunch III said, "and thinking a little bit more about how hockey can play a bigger role within the museum itself."
"In many ways what you see is you've got Canadians, Russians, African Americans... a whole array of people who put aside national or regional identity to come together as a team to make a city better."
"That's the America I love, people of different races of different politics coming together for the greater good. That's what the Capitals symbolize."
After a quick visit and photo op with some of the NHL's mascots, it was time for puck drop.
Devante Smith-Pelly had been sitting at 99 points for ten games, waiting anxiously to notch that 100th point. That night, it finally happened, on the first goal of the game. Smith-Pelly pressured Buffalo netminder Carter Hutton on the forecheck, got a hold of the puck and found Brett Connolly in front of the net for the score.
"It's funny how things work," Smith-Pelly said after the game "we got this group here and I finally get it so I don't know, maybe just a little more jump in my step tonight."
The Caps gave the group a game worth watching, winning 4-3 in a shootout. As if that weren't exciting enough, they got to meet Braden Holtby, Devante Smith-Pelly, Madison Bowey, Nic Dowd, and Brooks Orpik afterward. All of whom were amazed at the club's turnout.
"I'm just so proud to be an NHL player of color," Bowey commented, "to have this here it's just amazing and I'm so honored and so happy they could make it out and we could get a win for them."
"It's amazing, probably something I didn't think I would ever see," Smith-Pelly added. "Group of 40 black women coming together and just for the joy of hockey. It's amazing that the game has grown that much."
"Renee took it upon herself to create a space," Dowd said, "and I mean you look around and there's a ton of willing participants."
Since the meetup, the BGHC has continued to make their way around the nation. They’ve made stops in Nashville and New York, and most recently back in D.C., where Hess got to meet Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first player of color. With the regular season coming to a close, Hess has her sights set on the future. She is currently raising money to turn BGHC into a non-profit organization before the beginning of next season.
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