Capitals send message, start Devante Smith-Pelly for first game in Chicago since racial taunts

Capitals coach Todd Reirden sent a message Sunday as Devante Smith-Pelly played his first game in Chicago since fans harassed him with racial taunts last February.

Normally a member of the Caps’ fourth line, Smith-Pelly started against the Blackhawks, allowing him to stand on the ice for the national anthem.

“For me, it was really something that was important to do,” Reirden said after the game (via ESPN). “What happened to him last year in this building, and where we are today in our world, and some of the things that he’s done in our community this year — just having another family out not too long ago to our game.

“To me, that is fighting a bigger fight than we even know about, that Devante has to go through. So I thought it was a way to show our backing and our support for him, and that’s why I wanted to start him in the game tonight.”

In that game last February, four fans repeatedly shouted “Basketball!” at Smith-Pelly, who is one of only about two dozen black players in the NHL. The fans were ejected and banned from the United Center for life.

The Blackhawks ended up winning Sunday’s game, 8-5. Smith-Pelly, who after playing one shift to start the game returned to the fourth line, took four shots but did not score. But the winger definitely wanted a goal.

“I wanted to score first shift really, to be honest,” Smith-Pelly said. “It was just something nice that [Reirden] did for me. Honestly, I wanted to just have a decent shift and get the game going.”