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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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5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

NBC Sports Washington

5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

Most fans know little about Radko Gudas other than the fact that he has a reputation for being a dirty player. Here are some facts to help you get to know the newest Capital a little better.

1. Gudas has been suspended four times in his career

First the bad news. Gudas has a lengthy suspension history and is one hit away from getting a significant suspension from the Department of Player Safety. Here’s a look at all four of his suspensions:

Dec. 2, 2015: Check to the head of Mike Zibanejad, suspended two games

Oct. 10, 2016: Late check to the head of Austin Czarnik, suspended six games

Nov. 19, 2017: Slash to the head of Mathieu Perreault, suspended 10 games

Feb. 20, 2019: High-stick to the head of Nikita Kucherov, suspended two games

These plays are why Gudas has the reputation that he does.

Fans will want to compare Gudas with Tom Wilson, but really there is no comparison here. If you watch these plays from Gudas they certainly seem much more intentional than anything Wilson does.

The good news is that Gudas is working on playing a cleaner game.

“I worked on it in the summer and I thought I adjusted the game enough to still be able to play physical, just not be a liability out there for me team,” Gudas told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “It's always something hard to adjust, but we still have to do it. It's our job. If you don't hurt the team that you're playing for while doing it, that's where you can find (the line) as a player.”

This is not just lip service as Gudas’ penalty numbers have gone in each of the past three seasons, going from 116 in 2015-16 to 93, to 83 to 63 in 2018-19.

2. Gudas has had two fights against the Caps

Gudas has not been shy about dropping the gloves in his career and has done so twice against Washington.

The first instance came back on Nov. 11, 2014 while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. A scrum broke out after Eric Fehr barreled into goalie Ben Bishop and Gudas and Wilson became engaged leading to both players dropping the gloves.

The second fight came this past season. In a game between the Caps and Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 8, Gudas laid a big hit on Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly immediately came to his teammate’s defense. The fight was more of a tussle than anything else as neither player could get their hands free.

3. Gudas was voted as Philadelphia’s best defenseman in 2018-19

Now on to the good news. The Caps have actually gotten a good defenseman.

When it was announced that the Caps had traded Matt Niskanen for Gudas, the initial reaction was that Washington’s defense had gotten worse, but that was a necessary price to pay considering the team needed to clear cap space. That may not be the case.

Gudas had a very good 2018-19 season for the Flyers, so much so that he was given a team award as the most outstanding defenseman as voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters.

Did it help that pretty much everyone on Philadelphia’s blue line had a bad year? Yes, there is no denying that. Gudas is not the caliber player that he should be an NHL team’s best defenseman. But he is a lot better than most people give him credit for.

Make no mistake, this was not a simple salary dump by Washington. Brian MacLellan very shrewdly freed up some cap space by bringing in a defenseman who can play at a level that is just as good if not better than Niskanen can at this point.

4. Gudas has experience playing with Michal Kempny and Jakub Vrana

Gudas is from the Czech Republic and has some experience with some of his new Czech teammates. He and Kempny played on the U18 and 20 Czech teams together. Gudas and Vrana were teammates over the summer in the World Championships which Kempny could not participate in because he was injured.

“I played with a lot of the guys throughout the years that I play in the league, but with Michal, I used to play on the national team (with him),” Gudas said. “We're the same age. We played some important games together in youth. And with Jakub, I know him from the world national team a little bit now and I think we hit it off pretty well. Looking forward to work with them, too.”

5. Gudas is family with former Cap Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth and girlfriend Karolina Gudasova had a baby girl in September 2017. As you can guess from Karolina’s last name, she is the sister of Radko thus making him the uncle to their girl, Emilka. Now Gudas is officially Neuvirth’s brother-in-law after Neuvirth and Karolina were married which led to hilariously random pictures like this.


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Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik

Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Capitals free agents

Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik 


2018-19 stats 

Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI


Brooks Orpik (38 years old): 53 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 15:40 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 1 goal, 1 assist, 18:12 TOI


Hockey-Graph contract projections

Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit

Brooks Orpik: 1 year, $1,150,064 cap hit


The case for Brett Connolly 

The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? There is an argument to be made here. Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time. 

There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years. 

It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.    

The case for Brooks Orpik

A leader, a winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Hard to measure what Brooks Orpik has done for the Capitals in his five years with the team. Did the Capitals overpay an aging defenseman when they signed Orpik before the 2014-15 season? Maybe. But it worked out for everyone even after last summer’s buyout and subsequent return. Orpik contributed again last season – though a knee injury limited him and bothered him most of the season. He even scored a game-winning overtime goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some of this will depend on what Orpik wants to do. He said it would be later in the summer before he makes a firm decision on whether to play at age 39. 

But while the Capitals have solidified their blueline with the trade for Radko Gudas and have two young players – Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos – available to play the left side, it’s always nice to have a veteran there. Orpik might not want to play a limited No. 6/7 role even if Washington wants him back. And maybe the Capitals want to give those young players ice time. But Orpik won’t cost much more than they do. Do you bring him back? 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.