After enduring hurtful racist taunts at a Maryland youth hockey game recently, Divyne Apollon II was showered with hockey love at Monday’s Washington Capitals-St. Louis Blues game in D.C.
“It was a good game,” Divyne said with a smile. “It would have been better if they (Capitals) won.”
Divyne, a 13-year-old defenseman, and his team visited the Capitals locker room after the game and met Smith-Pelly, Carlson, forward Alex Ovechkin goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Divyne left the room clutching autographed sticks from Ovechkin, Smith-Pelly and Carlson. Being a good teammate, he gifted a stick given to him by Holtby to Maple Leafs goalie Alex Auchincloss.
“I’m overwhelmed from the support I’m seeing,” Metro Maple Leafs Head Coach Brad Howington said, looking around the locker room. “You didn’t think anything was going to come out this. All the support that has come out of this has been great. The kids are having a blast.”
Asked about how he felt about the team that taunted him – identified by The Washington Post as the Old York Road Raiders – Divyne said he felt sorry for the suburban Philadelphia team.
“I guess they’re pretty angry at home because they didn’t get to meet Ovie because of their actions,” he said. “It was really cool that they (Capitals) reached out to us and invited us to the game and let us meet them at the end.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 15, 2019
The Capitals players heard about the racist abuse that Divyne has endured on the ice – most recently at a tournament in Maryland a few weeks ago – and appreciated the way that his teammates stood up for him.
“I’ve gone through it when I was younger and at this stage as well,” Smith-Pelly told reporters earlier in the day.
He was referring to the February 2018 incident at Chicago’s United Center where some so-called hockey “fans” “racially taunted him as sat in the penalty box. The Chicago Blackhawks organization reacted swiftly to the episode, banning the culprits from home games.
Smith-Pelly said he was impressed by how Divyne’s teammates handled their business and rallied around their teammate after he was racially abused at the Maryland tournament.
“One thing that kind of stood out is how his teammates had his back as 13-year-old kids fighting for their friends and that brings you back to when stuff happened with me when I was younger and now,” Smith-Pelly added. “Guys on my team always had my back, too. So, I thought it was good to recognize the team as well for standing up for their teammate.”
Carlson told the young players “You guys are the future, and by doing what you did are standing up for each other and standing up for yourselves.”
“That’s what we need to move forward,” he added. “You guys are just kids. You made things right.”
Metro Maple Leafs parents did their part, too. Hockey mom Tammi Lynch designed a sticker with the word “racism” and a red hockey stick slashed across it. She gave copies to players and parents to wear to register their disgust about Divyne’s on ice treatment.
The hockey world has embraced the symbol. The team has received scores of request for copies of the stickers for players to put on their helmets or sticks.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 14, 2019
And others folks in the hockey community showed their solidarity with Divyne and the Maple Leafs in different ways.
Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban sent a video message encouraging Divyne and Ty Cornett, a 13-year-old hockey player of color from Detroit who also has been subjected to on-ice racist taunts, to keep on keeping on and not let the negativity of others deter them.
Divyne’s father, Divyne Apollon Sr., said he was surprised and touched by the outpouring of support from the Capitals and others in hockey.
“This is like Disney World,” the father said of the outpouring of support. “The message is this game is for everybody. You don’t segregate people by their color, period. You’re brought here to play hockey, it’s a team sport. You play it to build character, not to destroy people.”
And the younger Divyne had his own message for other kids of color who may be experiencing the racist hockey hate that he’s suffered through on the ice.
“Don’t worry about it,” he told reporters. “If you want to play the game, play it.”
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.