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Celebrating the Black Girl Hockey Club this Women’s History Month

Celebrating the Black Girl Hockey Club this Women’s History Month

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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Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS--Alex Ovechkin was not present for the all-star festivities in St. Louis, but his presence was still very much felt by all who were on hand. As players and league officials gathered to celebrate the game and the season, there was no way to do that without Ovechkin’s name being brought up.

From Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi describing “The Goal” in which Ovechkin scored from on his back against the then Phoenix Coyotes as his favorite Ovi moment to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy comparing Ovechkin's one-timer to a “knuckleball,” Ovechkin’s name seemed to be on the lips of everyone who had gathered for all-star weekend.

“He's obviously one of the best to ever play,” Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. “Just breaking records now. He's one of those guys when you get on the ice with them, you kind of stare at him and it's Alex Ovechkin. You don't realize how big he is and how fast he is and stuff like that on TV, but when you get to see him in person that's kind of what you realize. Generational player.”

“I'm going to be looking back to playing against one of the best scorers in the league if not all-time so it's pretty cool,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.

The fact that Ovechkin was a topic of conversation should come as no surprise. For those who had dared to wonder if Ovechkin was perhaps fading in the goal-scoring race or that his age was finally starting to catch up to him, he silenced all doubters with eight goals in the three games leading into the Capitals’ bye week.

“To be able to see Ovi up close and just see how special of a player he is, how special of a goal-scorer he is, it's truly amazing,” teammate T.J. Oshie said. “He just keeps scoring, he doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down. Since I've been on the team, I think around almost five years now, Ovi hasn't changed. He hasn't lost a step, he hasn't gotten slower, his shot hasn't gotten softer, he hasn't had any less drive. If anything, more drive.”

Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak still leads the league in goals with 37, but that lead shrunk considerably thanks to Ovechkin’s red-hot play of late. He now sits just three goals behind the league lead with 34.

“I don't even know what to say anymore. It's amazing,” Pastrnak said. “He's unbelievable goal-scorer. He's proving it year after year.”

Pastrnak has virtually led the goal-scoring race for the entire season, but Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals the two straight seasons and in six of the last seven. The Bruins forward said he expects Ovechkin will be able to catch him and make it three in a row.

“My guess would be he's going to finish in front of me anyway so I'm just not even bothering myself with anything like that,” Pastrnak said.

But it’s not just the recent success that has everyone talking.

Ovechkin’s recent goal surge now has him tied for ninth all-time in goals scored and just eight goals shy of reaching 700 in his career.

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was victimized for goal No. 600, is hoping Ovechkin will make history against someone else this time.

“I hope I'm not there for the 700th,” he said. “A lot of video on that 600.”

Reaching 700 goals is a prestigious achievement in and of itself, and one that only seven other players have reached in the history of the NHL. But the excitement surrounding Ovechkin nearing another milestone centers around what this means for his quest to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.

Gretzky’s record for most career goals stands at 894. That mark has long been thought of as untouchable.

“Until now,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“It's incredible,” he continued. “It's exciting. It's a testament both to Wayne's record that it seems to have been unapproachable until now and it's a testament to Alex Ovechkin and his amazing career so far and one that we hope continues for a number of years. Obviously his longevity, and he seems to be in great shape, will be a factor as to whether or not he can ultimately achieve that record.”

“I hope he can get close, just how exciting it is,” Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “I think he'll score 50 until he's 50 years old it seems like. That one-timer is not going away. Ovi's awesome for the game. It's so cool to see him get close.”

But with all the excitement that Ovechkin brings and all the talk of how his chase of Gretzky is good for the game comes the inevitable question: Should he have come to St. Louis to be a part of the All-Star Game?

While he may not be playing like it, Ovechkin is 34 years old which is not young for an NHL player. He has his sights set on another Stanley Cup run and the extra rest could be very beneficial for him. He has also participated in the All-Star Game seven times in the past so one could certainly argue that he has done enough to promote the game in the past.

On the other hand, Ovechkin was voted a captain by the fans and this is the second straight season he has elected not to go. This season, that decision is not coming off the heels of a long championship run and a short summer. His absence also means that Washington will be without him for the first game back from the break as he is required to serve a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is 31 years old and this year’s game in St. Louis his ninth appearance. When asked about Ovechkin’s decision, he said that he understood why Ovechkin would choose not to go, but explained why he still felt it was important.

“I think everyone's got to make their own decision, you can respect his,” Kane said. “I mean, his team's in a good position. He feels he needs to rest for them to go on a long playoff run, that's his decision. I guess you can respect that too, but you look at his team, his team's first in their division, they'll make the playoffs, it's probably not that big of a deal for him to miss a game, right? For us, we're fighting for a playoff spot. I think it's an honor to be here. I think it's pretty special to create some memories here. Also, for me, I feel like I wouldn't want to miss a regular season game especially given the spot our team is in.”

Head coach Todd Reirden, who will be tasked with developing a game plan for Montreal without his star player, came to Ovechkin’s defense.

“Obviously it's a difficult decision and something that he spends a lot of time with,” Reirden said. “I think at this time of his career, he understands what he needs to do to make himself the best player he can for the second half of the year. In particular, to go on the run that we had two years ago. He felt like this was the last thing and it's obviously difficult to be missing him for a game. But his ultimate goal, 700's going to be great for him, but he wants to win another Stanley Cup and he feels like this gives him the best chance to do it, then I'm all in.”

With the decision made, fans will have to wait until Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators to watch Ovechkin take the ice again. But after passing Mario Lemieux and tying Steve Yzerman on the all-time goals list in the last game before the break, his proximity to 700 goals guarantees that Ovechkin will remain one of the big stories around the hockey world until then.

Said Oshie, “It's going to be fun to watch his career and see how many people he can climb on that all-time goals ladder.

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Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

ST. LOUIS -- There was no All-Star championship for the Metropolitan Division All-Stars this year. The Metro was not able to defend its crown in 2020 as it fell 9-5 to the Atlantic Division in the first game of the All-Star Game tournament on Saturday.

Despite the early loss, the Capitals certainly left their mark on the event. Here were the highlights:

An ovation for Oshie

T.J. Oshie began his NHL career in St. Louis and remains a fan favorite there even now in the midst of his fifth season in Washington. That was evident when Oshie was introduced to the crowd to thunderous applause.

“I think it's a pretty cool story,” Oshie said. “It's something that I'm going to enjoy telling the kids and grandkids down the road. But I think the coolest part for me was just the cheers from the fans when my name was called a couple times there. I enjoyed playing here. I love playing in D.C. though, but I had some good experiences here, some heartbreaks, some pretty good teams we played on. Just to get back here, just kind of crazy that my first All-Star Game ended up being in St. Louis. It was a great weekend, it was fun, the fans were awesome as always.”

The starting lineup

Todd Reirden went with what he knew to start the game as Oshie and John Carlson both started the game with Braden Holtby in net. The only non-Cap to start was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

The Barzal, Oshie, Carlson trio seemed to find some chemistry through the game and Oshie had nothing but positive things to say of the speedy forward after the game.

“Obviously his skill level's off the charts, just skating, his stickhandling and vision on the ice,” Oshie said. “Obviously we would've liked to put up some more goals, but it's nice trying to get open and have him find me than chase him around the ice and just try to not get made a fool of. It was awesome. He's a great kid. It was nice kind of getting to know him off the ice here these last couple days.”

While Oshie wished for more production, that line actually acquitted itself nicely. Oshie recorded one goal and one assist, Carlson had one goal and Barzal had two assists.

Carlson scores a milestone

The Atlantic Division jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Carlson scored the first goal of the game for the Metro.

Holtby broke up a scoring chance for the Atlantic as he blocked a centering pass with his stick which sparked the breakout in the other direction. Carlson and Barzal had a 2-on-1 opportunity and Barzal set up Carlson for the shot past a helpless Frederik Anderson. Oshie recorded a secondary assist on the goal.

That was not just the Caps’ first goal of the game, it was the first goal by a Caps defenseman at the All-Star Game in franchise history, according to the team. Quite the milestone.

“That’s great,” Carlson said. “I guess I had no idea.”

Oshie scores in St. Louis

I mean, he had to, right? His first All-Star game coming in St. Louis, there was no way Oshie was going to walk away from this game without scoring.

The Metro Division cycled in the offensive zone and Seth Jones dropped the puck off to Oshie near the blue line. He cut up the middle then fired a shot to the corner to beat Anderson, making him the eighth player in Caps’ franchise history to score at an All-Star Game.

Coach Osh in the house

Oshie’s family has always been the talk of Washington because of how adorable his daughters are and that was on full display again on Saturday. But it was Oshie’s dad who stole the show.

Oshie’s father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. That makes traveling very difficult. After Oshie’s goal, however, the broadcast cut to Oshie waving up to his father who had been able to make the trip to St. Louis.

“It's always great to have Coach Osh around,” Oshie said. “He missed our fathers' trip this year, it's kind of hard for him to travel, but we were able to make it work for him to come to St. Louis where a lot of the people you see working down here behind the scenes probably know him better than they know me, so he got to see some old friends. Just special to have him here to witness my first All-Star Game in person.”

Oshie added, “There's certain milestones that I've made in my career that I want him to be a part of if he's able to make it and this was one of them He came to St. Louis quite a bit when I played and he has a lot of friends here, a lot of people that treat him really good as well. This was something that I didn't want him to miss."

Holtby ends on a high-note

Let’s face it, the All-Star Game does not favor the goalies. A 3-on-3 tournament is meant to promote as much scoring as possible. As a result, it is often a tough night for the netminders and that was true for Holtby who made five saves on nine shots in his single period of play. But Holtby was able to end his night on a high note with one of the top saves of the game.

David Pastrnak set up Shea Weber on the far-side for what looked like a lay-up on Holtby, but Holtby was able to stretch the pad for the fantastic toe save to deny Weber.

“It felt good to make a save,” Holtby said.

“It's difficult, but it's fun too,” Holtby said of the 3-on-3 format. “It's challenging. I think guys are starting to figure it out a little bit more with the cross-ice pass and stuff. But it's fun to be a part of.”

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