First ever all-Black starting line makes NHL history

"Moving forward in the league, you hope it isn't a story anymore and will be the norm. It was a pretty cool moment for all those guys," Tampa Bay Lighting coach Jon Cooper told ESPN about Monday's historic game.

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On Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team made history by becoming the first in the league to have an all-Black forward line. The forwards who starred in the pioneering moment were 27-year-old Daniel Walcott, 24-year-old Mathieu Joseph, and 27-year-old Gemel Smith

“First of all, they’re all in the NHL for a reason,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper told ESPN. “They deserve to be here and have worked their tails off. To have them all together, they had a little chemistry. Moving forward in the league, you hope it isn’t a story anymore and will be the norm. It was a pretty cool moment for all those guys.”

While updated statistics about the racial demographics of the NHL and NWHL are scarce, there are enough to illustrate what spectators too often see in the overwhelmingly white and male-dominated sport. The statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight reports that less than 5% of NHL players are Black or people of color. NPR’s WDET reports that there are only 43 players of color in the NHL out of 700, which is equal to 6%.

Read More: Kelsey Koelzer to be first Black hockey coach in NCAA

Joseph told ESPN that Monday’s game against the Florida Panthers marked a “step in the right direction.” 

“It was fun to have some progress and it was great to see and I was glad I was part of it. … Any players of color in this league want to showcase to our families or other people of color,” said Joseph.

 Joseph, Smith, and Walcott were all born in Canada.

The NHL acknowledged the moment’s significance on Twitter, saying “Tampa’s all-Black line inspired hockey players around the world!” 

The Tampa Bay Lighting also shared a heartening video of player Daniel Walcott’s father, David Walcott, from 2017 in which he possibly spoke the all-Black line into existence. 

“One of the things that was really funny is that he had mentioned having a line of all Black hockey players and I was thinking, JT’s on the lighting, my son’s coming up and they have another guy named [Bokondji Imama] and they have Joseph, “ said the senior Walcott. 

“It’s very possible that the Tampa Bay Lighting could be the first NHL team to have an all Black player line.” 

Read More: The Hockey Diversity Alliance calls for the NHL to suspend playoff games

Florida Panthers forward, 25 year-old Anthony Duclair, who is also Black, reflected on the game which his team ultimately won in a score of 4-0. 

“That’s great to see,” Duclair told ESPN. “The way that the NHL is moving forward, it’s great to see for those guys, and I’m sure it was a special night for them.”

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