The History of Black Washington Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly (Caps Outsider)

February has been designated by the NHL as “Hockey is for Everyone Month.” In honor of the occasion, the Capitals hold a series of events, most notably Hockey is for Everyone Night. While that is obviously a very inclusive name, there is a reason the NHL picked February for this designation: It’s also Black History Month.

There are more active Black players in the NHL than ever before, however there are still barely enough to fill out a single NHL roster. In their history, the Capitals have actually been among the most diverse in the league, with eleven Black players playing a game for the team since 1974. This is second only to the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, and New York Rangers (12) but still illustrates just how few Black players make it to the league. Nicknamed “Chocolate City,” Washington D.C. is 50% African-American according to the 2010 census. So it makes sense that the Capitals would want players on the ice who look like the kids in their city. Joel Ward embraced that role while in Washington, and was a regular supporter of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey program. Madison Bowey and Devante Smith-Pelly also supported Fort Dupont.

Current Capitals fans obviously know Bowey and Smith-Pelly, and should also remember Ward fondly, but we want to highlight the other Black players who have worn a Capitals sweater over the franchise’s history. We’ll begin with this excerpt from the Capitals website, which explains how the Caps became the first NHL team to have two Black players play in the same game during their inaugural season:

Mike Marson was the second African-American to ever play in the NHL. Bill Riley was the third. The Washington Capitals helped break down racial obstacles in the league, selecting Marson with their second pick in the 1974 entry draft and signing Riley to a five-game tryout contract in December of 1974 and then to an NHL contract in 1977. The two were the first African-Americans to take the ice since Willie O’Ree – who broke the league’s color barrier – left the NHL in 1961.

The error in the quote above, is that both were born in Canada, which means they are not African-American (Black-Canadian is the preferred term). All of the players on our list are Black, but they have diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Only two of the eleven are from the United States, with the majority hailing from Canada. We attempted to arrange the list chronologically, but obviously tenures in the NHL can get a bit confusing with player movement.

Mike Marson (1974-1978)

Mike Marson was drafted in the 2nd Round, 19th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft. Marson signed a five-year contract with the Capitals and would become the second African-Canadian (Ontario) to play in the NHL. The left-winger started his first NHL game at the age of 19, which was also the first game for the franchise. He was probably rushed to the NHL too soon, which likely caused his career to end prematurely. After scoring 94pts in 69 games for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHA, he never scored more than 28 pts in a single NHL season. In 193 games with the Capitals, Marson recorded 24 goals and 24 assists, before being traded to the Kings.

Bill Riley (1974-1979)

Bill Riley only made it into one game during that 1974 season, but became a regular with the Capitals in 1977. After an effective stint in the IHL, Riley's reputation as a combative winger led Tom McVie to bring Riley with him when he was appointed head coach of the Caps in 1976. In 125 games as a Capital, Riley recorded 28 goals and 28 assists. He also was a regular in the penalty box, with 313 minutes. He was pulled away from the Caps by the Winnipeg Jets in the expansion draft of 1979 and sadly only played 14 more games in the NHL. Riley is Afro-Canadian, born in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

Reggie Savage (1990-1993)

Reggie Savage is actually one of the more disappointing draft picks in Capitals history. He was selected 15th overall in the 1988 NHL Draft, and despite playing hockey until 2004, he only played in 34 total NHL games. After tearing up the QMJHL with the Victoriaville Tigres, and impressing with 186 pts in 179 games with the AHL Baltimore Skipjacks, Savage was given a chance in the NHL with 16 games for the Capitals in 92-93. He only scored 5 pts, and was traded to his home province Quebec Nordiques in June of 1993. The highly skilled right-wing represented Canada in the 1989 World Junior Championships, but never made an impact in the NHL with only 12 points in 34 career games.

Anson Carter (1997, 2004)

Anson Carter is the only player on this list to have played for the Capitals during two different decades, both times for just 19 games, seven years apart. Born in Toronto of Barbadian descent, Carter was a 10th round steal in the 1992 NHL Draft. His rights were traded to Washington in 1996, where he scored 5 pts before becoming part of one of the biggest trades in team history. He was shipped along with Jason Allison and Jim Carey to the Boston Bruins for Adam Oates, Bill Ranford, and Rick Tocchet. After several successful seasons in Boston, Edmonton, and New York, Carter found his way back to the Caps in exchange for Jaromir Jagr of all people. Sadly Washington flipped him around 19 games and 10 pts later for Jared Aulin. Carter recorded 421 pts in 674 career NHL games, making him one of the most successful black NHL players ever. He currently is serving as a television analyst for both NHL Network and NBC Sports.

Jason Doig (2002-2004)

Jason Doig was drafted 34th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995, and toured the NHL and AHL extensively before landing in Washington for the 2002-03 season. It was for the Capitals that Doig finally became a regular NHL player, although those were lean years in Washington. In 120 games for the Caps, Doig recorded 5 goals and 14 assists. He also topped 100 penalty minutes in both seasons and provided relatively solid defense. He never returned to the NHL after the lockout. Doig was born in Montreal, of Jamaican descent.

Mike Grier (2002-2004)

Born in Detroit, Mike Grier was the first US-born and exclusively US-trained African-American in the NHL. After being drafted by St. Louis 219th overall in 1993, Grier served primarily as a checking forward, and played 1,060 NHL games over 14 NHL seasons. The right-winger became a crowd favorite in Washington after being acquired from Edmonton in 2002. In two seasons for the Capitals, Grier recorded 23 goals and 29 assists in 150 games. Grier was traded to Buffalo in 2004 for Jakub Klepis and after stops in Buffalo and San Joe, he retired in 2011.

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre (2004)

Defenceman, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre didn't have a very long tenure with the Capitals. Signed in 2004 as a free-agent, he played 13 games and scored a single goal before Washington ended his NHL career by cutting him. He was a smooth skater who once beat Martin St. Louis in a speed skating competition at the AHL All-Star Game. Grand-Pierre is a cousin to Georges Laraque, a more notable black NHL player. Grand-Pierre is Canadian born, of Haitian descent.

Donald Brashear (2006-2009)

Donald Brashear is considered one of the best enforcers in NHL history, currently ranked 15th all-time in NHL penalty minutes. He went undrafted out of the QMJHL but broke in with the Montreal Canadians in 1994. He found his way to Washington late in his career, after establishing his reputation by recording more than 200 penalty minutes multiple times. He even recorded a staggering 372 pims for Vancouver in 1997-98. In three memorable seasons with the Capitals, Donald recorded 25pts and 396 pims in 220 games and was even named an alternate captain. Brashear was born in Indiana but moved to Quebec (where he began playing hockey) due to family issues when he was 8.

Joel Ward (2011-2015)

Next we come to Joel Ward, who played in 276 regular season games for the Capitals making him the longest tenured on this list. Ward was born in Ontario of Barbadian descent and went undrafted out of the OHL. He took the long road to the NHL, but finally made his debut for the Minnesota Wild in 2007. He signed a one-year deal with Nashville in 2008 and made the opening night roster, and hasn't looked back since. The defensive forward signed in Washington for the 2011-12 season, coming off an impressive playoff performance the year before. Ward scored 74 Goals and recording 83 assists in his regular season action with the Capitals, and added an additional 18 points in 35 playoff games. He scored one of the biggest goals of his career to defeat the Bruins in a Game 7, but sadly that goal sparked an ugly racist incident with Boston fans on Twitter. Ward is currently playing for the San Jose Sharks.

Madison Bowey (2017-2019)

Madison Bowey was selected by the Capitals in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and made his NHL debut on October 14, 2017. Bowey (born April 22, 1995) is bi-racial and a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is considered an all-around talent on defense, possessing both offensive skills and defensive size and awareness. During the 2012–13 season he played with Team Canada and won a gold medal at 2013 IIHF World U18 Championships. With the Caps, he had 1 goal and 17 assists in 85 games before getting traded to Detroit. Most importantly, he won a Stanley Cup.

Devante Smith-Pelly (2017-2019)

Devante Smith-Pelly was a new addition to the Washington Capitals in 2017 and has been a pleasant surprise after bouncing around the league in his early career. Born June 14, 1992 in Scaborough, Ontario, Smith-Pelly was selected in the second round (42nd overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He is known for his hitting and forechecking abilities as a power forward. He currently has 7 goals and 7 assists in 47 games for the Capitals, and 91 points in 313 NHL games overall. Smith-Pelly has played for the Ducks, Canadiens, Devils, and now Capitals.