LAS VEGAS — Devante Smith-Pelly didn’t want to jinx it.
They haven’t accomplished anything. They still needed one more win. So there was no point in talking about celebrations, parades or anything of that nature.
At the same time, he wanted to make one thing crystal clear: if the Washington Capitals, who have a 3-1 series lead on the Vegas Golden Knights, were to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Thursday there is no way he would visit the White House.
Not as long as Donald Trump is still the president.
“The things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” Smith-Pelly, who was born in Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end, said of Trump in an interview with Postmedia. “Some of the things he’s said are pretty gross. I’m not too into politics, so I don’t know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don’t agree with.
“It hasn’t come up here, but I think I already have my mind made up.”
On Monday, Trump cancelled the Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House meant to celebrate their Super Bowl victory in February. Few members of the team planned to attend. Trump claimed in an official statement that he cancelled the event because, “They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem.” No Eagles players had knelt in protest on the field during the past season.
A day later, Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Steph Curry both said they would not be visiting if either the Cavaliers or Warriors win the NBA championship. Trump had also disinvited the Warriors from visiting last year after a number of players said they had no intention of going.
“I’m not surprised. It’s typical of him,” James told reporters of Trump’s decision to cancel the Eagles’ invite. “I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyway. So it won’t be Golden State or Cleveland going.”
Hockey is a bit different. It’s rare for players to deviate from the team and take personal stands.
Goaltender Tim Thomas made headlines in 2011 when he refused to attend the White House ceremony for the champion Boston Bruins because “the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, visited the White House when Barack Obama was still in office in 2016 and went again the following year when Trump was there.
“From my side of things, there’s absolutely no politics involved,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told the Associated Press at the time. “Hopefully, it stays that way.”
If the Capitals win, choosing whether or not to attend could send a strong message either way. For one, the team is located in the nation’s capital. Then there’s the fact that Washington has a Russian captain in Alex Ovechkin and a roster of players who represent the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Australia.
“Things that he’s saying about immigrants and people of colour, I don’t think anyone here would agree with that,” said Smith-Pelly, who was the target of racial abuse in a game in Chicago in February. “We’ve got a lot of Europeans and a lot of Canadians.”
“I don’t want to comment on that,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who was born in Sweden. “I’m staying out of politics.”
Brooks Orpik, who was born in San Francisco but grew up in Amherst, N.Y., said politics rarely gets discussed inside the dressing room. But being in D.C., it’s almost impossible to avoid.
“We were watching Sportsnet this morning and they had Steph Curry talking about it,” Orpik told Postmedia. “It’s always around you. But I think it’s a sensitive issue. Everyone has their own opinions, that’s why people vote different ways. Not everyone is going to agree on everything.”
Orpik was playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and then visited Obama in the White House.
“There was a Democrat (president) there, and I’m sure there were some Republicans who went,” he said. “Based on my experience, you spend three or four hours there and you see the president for like two minutes. It’s more about the experience and opportunity to celebrate than your actual interaction with the president.”
So who decides whether the Capitals would go? Probably Ovechkin, said Orpik. After all, he’s the team’s leader.
“If the best person on the team comes out and says (he’s going), even if there was a smaller guy on the team who didn’t agree with it, he doesn’t have the platform to stand up to him,” Orpik said. “It will definitely be interesting to see how it would play out.”
As one player joked, maybe Ovechkin, who would be the first Russian captain to win the Cup, will skip the White House and instead visit Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
“We don’t win yet,” Ovechkin said when the topic of celebrations came up. “I don’t know why people start talking about it … We just have to get it done and then we’re going to talk about all the different stuff.”
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