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'That’s what we need to move forward': John Carlson proud of youth hockey players for defending teammate from racist comments

'That’s what we need to move forward': John Carlson proud of youth hockey players for defending teammate from racist comments

WASHINGTON – Divyne Apollon II entered the Capitals locker room and a smile instantly creased his face. 
 
A hockey dressing room is no strange place to Divyne, a 13-year-old who plays travel hockey for the Metro Maple Leafs. He’s played the sport since he was eight. But this was different for the eighth grader from Maryland.  
 
Two weeks after one of the lowest moments of his life, when an opposing team from the Philadelphia area made repeated racial taunts at Divyne, the only African-American player on the Maple Leafs, during a Jan. 3 game, he was suddenly among his heroes. 
 
Washington defenseman John Carlson read about what Divyne endured and he and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly invited the Maple Leafs to Monday’s game against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena.  
 
It was a small gesture to a group of young teens forced to deal with a world that can be cruel, unwelcoming. The Maple Leafs were so outraged by the derisive words hurled at Divyne during that game that they fought back physically. It led to his suspension from the tournament before the adults figured out what had sparked the fight. 
 
“By doing what you did, you were standing up for each other, standing up for yourselves. That’s what we need to move forward,” Carlson told the Maple Leafs in the locker room after the game. “That’s important. That’s a good message to send everyone. And you guys are just kids, but you made things right.”
 
For Smith-Pelly, the incident comes as no surprise. Just last February during a Capitals game in Chicago a fan yelled at him to go back to playing basketball. There is no escape from racism even at the NHL level. It is something African American and African Canadian players learn to deal with playing hockey growing up.  
 
“I don’t want to say move on from it,” Carlson said. “But just keep being yourselves because I know me and [Smith-Pelly] and everyone around the city was not very happy to hear what happened, felt terrible about it. We just wanted to show our appreciation to you guys and thank you.”
  
Divyne and his teammates got to sit in section 225 to watch the Capitals’ 4-1 loss to St. Louis and were on the glass for an up close view of warm-ups before the game. Afterward they were ushered into the locker room and chatted with Carlson and Smith-Pelly, but also Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby, among others. 
 
The Maple Leafs stared in wonder at the familiar nameplates above the lockers most fans never get to see. There was Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie’s stalls. Brooks Orpik stopped by to say hello and so did Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey, another African Canadian who grew up in Winnipeg and dealt with the same taunts.  
 
The kids who tried to hurt Divyne with racist insults, who tried to make it clear that he didn’t belong on the ice, didn’t have the effect they intended. They galvanized a team and a community instead.  
 
“Well I guess they’re probably crying at home right now because they didn’t get to meet Ovechkin,” Divyne said.
 
Ovechkin handed Divyne one of his personal sticks. So did Smith-Pelly and Carlson. Braden Holtby gave him a goalie stick, but Divyne gave that one to Maple Leafs goalie Alex Auchincloss. He’s a goalie, too, and Holtby is his favorite player. Auchincloss wouldn’t let anyone touch that keepsake. The rest of the team got to take pictures with players, including selfies, and had them sign autographs. 
 
“At first it was really bad, but then it turned into some big movement, so people realize that it’s not OK to make fun of people and to treat everybody the way you wanted to be treated,” Maple Leafs forward Sam Abramson, 13, said. “Because he’s my teammate and you’ve got to stand up for your teammates.”
 
Divyne admitted the media coverage was becoming overwhelming. But the support he and his family have received from the Maple Leafs and the travel hockey community in Odenton, Md., where the team is based at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, has been overwhelming, too. 
 
One of the team moms, Tammi Lynch, created a logo in the aftermath of the incident: The word ‘racism” in a circle with a hockey stick serving as the slash mark through it. Divyne Apollon I, Divyne’s father, wore a t-shirt with the logo in the Caps locker room after the game. The players wore a version of the logo taped to their equipment in the aftermath of the Jan. 3 game. 
 
“You’d think that you wouldn’t have to deal with that these days, but it’s obviously still present,” Carlson said. “Hopefully this great story about the team standing up for each other - and how Divyne stood up for himself - is a good step forward and shows some people the real way to act and how to love each other.”

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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
Time:
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
Time:
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
Time:
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
Time:
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
Time:
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."

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