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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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'Miracle' does justice to the greatest moment in American sports

'Miracle' does justice to the greatest moment in American sports

With live sports on pause and most people stuck at home due to the coronavirus, hockey fans have to find other ways to pass the time. Watching a good hockey movie can certainly help, but the fact is some of us haven't seen the "classic" hockey movies since we were kids.

So how good are they really? Do they actually hold up? With nothing but time on our hands, let's find out.

Every Friday during the pause, I'll have a hockey movie review in which I will watch a movie the night before, take notes and provide those notes and a grade for each movie just to see how good they really are.

You can check out the past reviews here:

Happy Gilmore
The Mighty Ducks
D2: The Mighty Ducks
D3: The Mighty Ducks
Goon
Goon: Last of the Enforcers

This week's movie: "Miracle"

If you are going to tell the story of the greatest moment in the history of American sports, you better get it right.

"Miracle" is the story of USA's incredible upset win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. The movie focuses primarily on head coach Herb Brooks who managed to coach a team of young amateur players to a gold medal, going through what looked at the time to be an unbeatable Soviet Union team.

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For some background, the Soviet Union was considered easily the best team in the world heading into the Olympics. No one expected much from the US, but after a tie against Sweden in the first game, USA would go on to win every game earning a spot in the medal round. Their first game came against the Soviets, who had beaten the US 10-3 just prior to the games, but the US would pull off the incredible 4-3 upset and go on to beat Finland and claim the gold medal.

It is the greatest moment in US sports history, period. It's no surprise that someone would want to make a movie about it.

They certainly cast the right actor for Brooks. Kurt Russell was incredible as the head coach. The players were also pretty good despite most of them not being very prominent actors. Great care was taken in selecting players who could actually skate and play to make the movie more believable so this was the first major movie for many of them.

For a movie in which any self-respecting hockey fan will go into it knowing how it ends, there is still plenty of tension and drama throughout and the payoff at the end still packs an emotional punch.

Here are my notes from watching:

  • The movie begins with a lot of news clips on America. You see news of current events sprinkled in throughout the movie which is important. The win over the Soviet Union is not important because it was a big upset, it was important because of everything else going on in the world. America needed a moment like this and the fact that it came against the nation's greatest enemy at the time made that game the incredible moment that it was. While I would have liked to see just a tad more of the context thrown into the movie, overall it does a good job illustrating why this game mattered and why it was about so much more than just a hockey game.
  • "I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones."
  • Former Caps forward Dave Christian is depicted in this movie by Steve Kovalcik. It is not a large role in the movie, but he's there. Christian would go on to play seven seasons with Washington scoring 417 points. The fact that he is not a folk hero and considered among the local sports legends is a travesty.
  • I actually did not know Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad that would go on to win gold until I watched this movie. That must have been brutal and it must have been hard for him to cut Ralph Cox the week before the Olympics too. That was a pretty heavy scene.
  • Did you think the portrayal of Broks was a bit over the top? It wasn't. As assistant coach Craig Patrick described, Brooks knew a lot of the players didn't like each other, as illustrated in a fight scene early in the movie, so he wanted the players to unite and hate him instead. To do that and just not lose the locker room entirely, he needed Patrick to be the good cop to his bad cop. Patrick actually played a pivotal role in this team's success despite the portrayal in the movie that makes it look like Patrick was pretty much just along for the ride.
  • You probably know about the famous bag skate after the Norway game. That happened. If you want to know more about it, here's an oral history of that night. The rink manager actually did turn the lights out and the team skated in the dark. It did not end with Mike Eruzione yelling that he plays for Team USA, however.
  • The movie definitely does a good job of showing how the team bounded over time. It makes an effort to get that point across.
  • I love having Al Michaels re-do the commentary for the movie. The iconic call at the end of the game, however, is the original recording.
  • The locker room speech will give you goosebumps. What a great speech by Brooks and what a great performance by Russell.
  • "Miracle" is hardly the only hockey movie guilty of this, but Hollywood seems to think 95-percent of what a hockey coach does during a game is stand behind the bench yelling "Here we go boys!"
  • The movie notes that USA came from behind in every game, but that's actually incorrect. Of the five games the team had played before the medal round, USA went 4-0-1. They came from behind to win or tie four of those games. In a 7-2 win over Romania, however, USA never trailed. But they did trail in every other game including the win over the Soviet Union and Finland in the medal round so it is still very impressive.
  • Using actors who could actually skate definitely helped this movie. The play looked very good. Jim Craig was a bit exaggerated -- not every save requires an all-out dive to the ice -- but otherwise the play looked very believable.
  • The quiet, solitary celebration by Brooks after the win is an incredible scene. Brooks knew he had to be the bad guy and once he is alone he allows himself a moment to let the emotion go.
  • A voiceover finish was a smart move. For those who may not know, the win over the Soviet Union was not for the gold medal. The Olympic tournament at the time did not determine winners in a bracket-style tournament but instead was decided by a round-robin between the top two teams in each division. The head-to-head matchup between divisional opponents counted so teams only got to play two games in the medal round. USA had one point from its tie with Sweden and won gold because it went on to beat Finland in the second game. Had they lost that game, they would have won bronze and the win over the Soviet Union would not be remembered the way it is today. For a movie, however, the USSR game was definitely the climax so you can't have them come back and play another game. It was a tidy way to wrap up the story while not feeling anti-climactic.
  • Brooks died in 2003 in a car crash. The movie was released in 2004.

Final Grade A-

Russell knocks it out of the park with his performance and the movie still packs plenty of drama, tension and emotion for a story that most people know the ending to going in. It does all of this while staying largely accurate. If I had one quibble, the movie shows why this win was important beyond just a hockey game, but I am not sure it emphasizes the context enough. If someone who did not live through the Cold War or remember the Soviet Union watched this movie, would they come away understanding why this is the biggest moment in US sports history? I'm not so sure. But that's just my only complaint. The movie is a fantastic depiction of a game every American hockey fan should know.

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Sergei Ovechkin meets baby brother Ilya

Sergei Ovechkin meets baby brother Ilya

Where would we be through this pause in the NHL season without baby news? Alex Ovechkin is now a father of two with the birth of his son Ilya on Wednesday. After a few years of Sergei stealing the hearts of Capitals fans, no doubt Ilya will be as cute and fans can't wait to meet him...but we'll have to get in line.

Before we can meet Ilya, he first had to meet big brother Sergei. Luckily, the moment was captured on camera and shared on Instagram.

It's as adorable as you would expect.

Let's get these kids on the ice!

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