Smith-Pelly starts in return to Chicago after racist taunts

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              Chicago Blackhawks right wing John Hayden (40) tries to get to a puck ahead of Washington Capitals right wing Devante Smith-Pelly (25) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo Nuccio DiNuzzo)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Washington Capitals coach Todd Reirden wanted to show his support for Devante Smith-Pelly.

So he put him on the ice for the opening face-off.

Smith-Pelly got the start Sunday in his first game in Chicago since the black winger heard chants of “basketball, basketball, basketball” while he was sitting in the penalty box during the third period of a 7-1 loss last February. The fans were promptly ejected, and then banned from Chicago’s home games.

“For me it was really something that was important to do,” Reirden said. “What happened with him last year in this building and where we are today in our world. Some of the things he’s done in our community this year, just having a family out not long ago to our game, that to me is fighting a bigger fight than we even know about, that Devante has to go through.”

The 26-year-old Smith-Pelly and defenseman John Carlson recently hosted a Maryland youth team after one of its players heard racist taunts during a tournament.

Smith-Pelly said he appreciated Reirden giving him the start in his return to the United Center.

“That was cool,” Smith-Pelly said after Washington’s 8-5 loss. “I love the national anthem here.”

Smith-Pelly was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the second period, but he said he had no trouble with any fans.

“I said it the day after and I probably repeated it. It’s just a couple of people,” Smith-Pelly said. “I don’t hold it against the city. I wasn’t excited or nervous to come back here. It’s just another game.”