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Rave reviews for Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future

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Rave reviews for Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future

When former Capitals forward Anson Carter broke into the NHL in 1996, he made a promise to his parents.

“They said, ‘Listen, there aren’t many players in the league that look like you and you don’t want to mess things up for the people behind you,’” Carter said Wednesday night before watching the U.S. premiere of “Soul On Ice: Past Present & Future” at Landmark E Street Cinema, a few blocks from Verizon Center.

“I just wanted to make sure I kept my nose clean. Could I fight? Yes. But I purposely chose not to go out of my way to fight because I didn’t want kids coming up behind me thinking to be a black player in this league you had to fight your way in. I wanted them to think I could be a goal scorer.”

Carter, now 41, went on to score 202 goals in 674 NHL games with the Bruins, Capitals, Oilers, Rangers, Kings, Canucks, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. As an executive producer of Kwame Mason’s documentary on the history of black players in professional hockey, Carter is hoping “Soul On Ice” will inspire young black athletes to play the game he grew up loving.

“We wanted to create an educational tool we could take around to kids and show them, ‘Listen, there’s all these black players who have played in the league,” Carter said. “They look like you, talk like you, sound like you.

“There are tough guys, checkers, goaltenders, goal scorers, stay-at-home defensemen, offensive defensemen. We come in all shapes and forms and we play all different roles on teams. We’re not pigeon-holed as one kind of player.”

Nearly 200 guests, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, Capitals coach Barry Trotz, NHL pioneer Willie O’Ree and dozens of players from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club started by Neal Henderson in 1976, watched the private screening of “Soul On Ice,” which chronicles more than 100 years of blacks playing professional hockey, dating back to the Colored Hockey League in Nova Scotia in the late 1900s.

“The slaves were the first to start playing hockey and the National Hockey League has adopted some of the moves the slaves were doing, such as (goaltenders) flopping to their knees for the butterfly and the slapshot,” Henderson said. “All of these things come from the slaves.”

The movie also tells the story of O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, at the age of 23, when the Boston Bruins called him up to play against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree went on to play 21 seasons of professional hockey, including 45 games in the NHL, despite losing sight in his right eye at the age of 19 when he was hit by a teammate’s slapshot.

“I kept it a secret, I only told my younger sister, and I swore her to secrecy,” said O’Ree, now the NHL's Director of Youth Development and ambassador for Hockey Is For Everyone. “I tell these young boys and girls you can do anything you set your minds to. If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

The film also documents the black players who followed O’Ree – from Val James, Mike Marson and Tony McKegney to Joel Ward, Wayne Simmonds and Trevor Daly – and the economic hardships and racism they experienced in a sport dominated by whites.

“It’s a history that is bittersweet for us,” Leonsis said. “It’s one we need to never forget.”

"It’s outstanding," Bettman said. "Frankly, it’s a story that needed to be told, but not many people even imagined it could exist. From a league standpoint, the beauty of this story being told speaks volumes about what we think our game represents. The lessons this game can teach you in terms of hard work and team work and diligence and the importance of an education and the importance of being physically fit. That to us is as important as what our great players do every night."

Mason, who sold his condo in Edmonton to help fund the three-year project, said he hopes the film brings a heightened awareness to the role black players had in paving the way for today’s stars.

“I didn’t want these kids to grow up and think it’s P.K Subban and that’s where it started,” Mason said. “I wanted them to know that there is a long-standing history in this game. In 20 years, the game is going to look a lot different and it’s going to be the biggest game in North America because it’s going to be so inclusive.”

Carter and Henderson said they hope Mason is right, saying they believe it’s only a matter of time before NHL rosters are filled with black players, instead of just one or two per team.

“It’s coming,” Carter said. “I would say another 10 years or so. I think it helps having high-profile guys like P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds and Seth Jones doing good things. I think it’s going to take players like that staying visible for the right reasons.”

Henderson, 78, said he hopes to see the day when a player from Fort Dupont, pulls on an NHL sweater.

“That’s what’s coming next,” he said with a broad smile. “We’ll have one of these kids playing in the NHL.”

[RELATED: Backstrom, Holtby selected to NHL All-Star Game]

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”

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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”

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