Nine CHL graduates are Stanley Cup champions as members of the Washington Capitals, bringing the first NHL Championship to America’s capital in the 44-year history of the franchise.
The Capitals came back from down 3-2 to end the cinderella run of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, taking a 4-3 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Lars Eller’s third period game winner.
Washington lost Game 1 of the series before rallying for four straight wins, outscoring the Golden Knights 20-14 over the five contests.
“It’s everything. Dreaming about it since I was a little kid obviously, not really knowing what was going to happen in July, I love these guys, I don’t really know what else to say,” Capitals forward and Game 5 goal-scorer Devante Smith-Pelly told CBC’s Scott Oake post-game. “You knew the team was good but with so much change you never know what to expect. We believed in each other all year, we knew we could do something special, and we did.
“My family is here, we’re going to celebrate tonight, and everyone back in Toronto we’ll see you soon.”
Smith-Pelly was one of five Ontario Hockey League graduates on the roster while an additional four were Western Hockey League products.
Washington’s playoff journey saw the Capitals eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets (4-2), Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2) and Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3) to reach the Stanley Cup Final where captain Alex Ovechkin continued his torrid pace, recording three goals and two assists for a playoff total of 15 goals, 12 assists and 27 points over 24 contests to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the NHL Playoffs.
In addition to the nine CHL graduates on the playing roster, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz played three WHL seasons with the Regina Pats from 1979-82, hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup as a WHL Champion in 1980. The native of Dauphin, Manitoba hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 19-year NHL coaching career.
“This group is special, it has been all year,” he reflected. “I’m so happy for the group that has gone through all the misery, I’m so happy for the D.C area and our fans, it hasn’t sunk in yet but it will.”
Other WHL connections included star goaltender Braden Holtby of Llodyminster, Sask., who turned aside 28 shots in the series-clinching victory, and Saskatoon, Sask. native Chandler Stephenson who is looking forward to bringing the Stanley Cup back to nearby Humboldt this summer in memory of the 16 victims of the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash that passed away this past April.
“I knew a couple of guys on the bus,” said Stephenson. “It’s one of those things I want to do for those guys and for Humboldt.”
The Capitals played to an overall playoff record of 16-8, outscoring opponents 86-61 and will enjoy a summer of championship celebrations for the first time since entering the NHL back in 1974.
CHL Graduates with the Washington Capitals:
Andre Burakovsky (Erie Otters 2013-14)
Brett Connolly (Prince George Cougars 2007-11)
Devante Smith-Pelly (Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors 2008-11)
Chandler Stephenson (Regina Pats 2010-14)
Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers 2010-13)
Madison Bowey (Kelowna Rockets 2010-15)
John Carlson (London Knights 2008-09)
Philipp Grubauer (Belleville, Windsor, Kingston 2008-11)
Braden Holtby (Saskatoon Blades 2005-09)
Head Coach Barry Trotz (Regina Pats 1979-82)
Assistant Coach Lane Lambert (Saskatoon Blades 1981-83)
Assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe (Calgary Hitmen [asst. coach/asst. gm] 1998-2006)