Growing The Game is Ian Kennedy’s weekly feature examining the global game, how social issues impact the sport, and how hockey’s important cultural shift continues to evolve.
What’s Next For Devante Smith-Pelly?
NHL veteran Devante Smith-Pelly decided it was time to move on to a new stage in his career this week. Smith-Pelly played 395 games in the NHL over eight seasons, including winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018.
Announcing his retirement as a player, Smith-Pelly leaves a positive impact as a vocal advocate for racial equity in hockey and as a role model for other Black hockey players. Smith-Pelly faced racist taunts throughout his career, including in his Stanley Cup-winning season in 2018 in a game in Chicago. His representation, including playing on an all-Black line with the AHL’s Ontario Reign in 2021 alongside Quinton Byfield and Akil Thomas, has impacted youth throughout his career.
While Smith-Pelly’s playing days are over, he’s now contemplating his next steps in hockey.
“I still love it,” Smith-Pelly said of remaining in the game after his retirement. “I still enjoyed skating and working out and getting ready for that, but it’s just time to love it from a different angle.”
What will that angle be? Smith-Pelly has yet to solidify his next steps, but is likely to continue to break barriers for other Black hockey players in an off-ice role, whether it’s coaching, scouting, or at the grassroots level.
Respect Group Continues To Improve Safety In Hockey
Co-founded by former NHLer and sexual assault survivor Sheldon Kennedy, Respect Group continues to expand their reach and impact in hockey.
The organization, whose mission is “Empowering people to recognize and prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD) through interactive, online training courses,” has partnered with top leagues across the globe, including the NHL and CHL.
This week, Respect Group announced another partnership at the top level of women’s professional hockey with the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF).
“Our commitment to improving hockey culture and preventing BAHD behavior within society continues with critical partnerships like this,” said Kennedy in a press release. “By providing good people with tools and knowledge makes them better and helps organizations thrive.
“The leadership of (PHF commissioner) Reagan Carey and the work the PHF is doing to advocate for their athletes, above everything else, is exemplary. We applaud these significant efforts to grow the game in a way that’s safe and inclusive for all.”
The PHF also announced added safety procedures and partnerships provided through RealResponse, and the introduction of mandatory background checks via the National Center for Safety Initiatives.
Brittany Howard On Record-Breaking Pace
Toronto Six forward Brittany Howard is on a record-breaking pace this season with 12 goals in her first 10 games of the PHF season. Her current rate would break the league’s all-time single-season mark. The current record was set in 2019-20 by then-Minnesota Whitecaps forward Allie Thunstrom, who scored 24 goals in 24 games.
Her next goal will already tie the top scorers, Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Kennedy Marchment, from last season, who finished tied for the league goal-scoring lead with 13 each.
Howard is in her first season playing for the Toronto Six after spending three seasons with the PWHPA. Following her graduation from Robert Morris, Howard played one season in the CWHL with the Toronto Furies before the league unexpectedly folded.
U-18 Women Ready To Take Center Stage
With the men’s world juniors wrapping up, the U-18 women are ready to take center stage internationally.
Canada and the USA are favored to compete again for gold, but the future of the women’s game will be on display by developing nations. Japan made noise at the recent World Championship and were promoted to the top division at the U-18 tournament for 2023. Slovakia, who has not appeared in recent World Championships or Olympic competitions at the senior national level, will also compete alongside regulars Sweden, Czechia, Finland and Switzerland.
Last year, Canada earned gold over the USA. Sweden earned a promotion to Group A, narrowly holding off an upstart Czechian team.