In the summer of 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was at a crossroads. Bought out by the New Jersey Devils, the then 25-year-old was uncertain of his future, not sure of the next steps to take. Then Brett Connolly, along with Tom Wilson, chimed in.
“They were honest and said there’s a spot for you there, and we can do something special,” Smith-Pelly said with a smile. “I’m glad I listened to them.”
For Smith-Pelly, his relationship with Connolly goes way back. The two played for Team Canada in the 2012 World Junior Championship when they were both 19. They were the only NHLers loaned to the team and helped Canada capture the Bronze medal.
“It’s funny how things work, I mean, that was a long time ago and now here we are... [Connolly and I] moved from Toronto together, started working out together and became good friends, great friends... it ends up being a small world but we’ve come [to be] very close.”
He also discussed his bond with Wilson; the two played in the same Toronto hockey program growing up and also came to form a strong friendship.
“I remember [Wilson] used to watch my games, I think it’s funny to think of now; he’s a grown man, he’s a big boy now,” Smith-Pelly chuckled, shooting a glance over at Wilson a couple stalls down.
Convinced by his now-teammates, Smith-Pelly signed a one-year deal with the Capitals and made his way to D.C., joining an organization that had lost key forwards over the 2017 offseason and was looking for players to step up. And, with heavy right-wing depth, Smith-Pelly proved himself and won a spot on the opening-night roster.
“I thought it was a good fit for him, and I think with the team and how everything is run here, it’s a good spot for guys to just be themselves, show their personalities in whatever way and just play and not really put too much pressure on anything,” Connolly said. “It’s a good environment to get better and just play and have fun. And think when you’re doing that, you’re not pressured as much, not thinking as much, you’re just playing and that makes it a lot easier for sure.”
Smith-Pelly finished the year with seven goals and 16 points in 75 games, and seemed to follow up on his goals set for himself before the regular season, which included being a physical presence and doing what it takes to help the team win, rather than putting too much emphasis on his individual stats.
However, he took his game to a whole new level in the postseason. The 2010 second-round pick had seven goals and eight points in the Capitals’ Cup run, including the game-tying goal in Game 5 against the Golden Knights that ultimately helped clinch the franchise’s first Cup title.
“Winning a Stanley Cup with someone you’ve known for a while is a very cool thing,” Connolly said. “Him along with other guys, Devo is a guy I’ve known longer, and he’s a lot of fun to win with and a guy I’m familiar with from back home.”
As Washington looks to build on their recent success and compete for back-to-back titles, Smith-Pelly said he’s fortunate to keep playing alongside his long-time teammates who he also considers his closest confidants.
“Those are two guys, if I need anything, to get anything off my chest and vice versa, we can go to each other,” Smith-Pelly said. “We can all be very honest with each other, always go to each other since we’re such good friends.”