A Historic Night for Hockey

The Tampa Bay Lightning dressed the first all-Black forward line earlier this week

Hockey is for Everyone

What’s Happening: The NHL has often been criticized for its lack of diversity. An overwhelming majority of players are white while only 3% of NHL players are Black. But this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a definitive statement that hockey truly is for everyone when they dressed and started, what is believed to be, the first all-Black forward line in NHL history. Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith, and Daniel Walcott proudly started the game for the Lightning in their season finale against the Florida Panthers.

Lightning Instagram

How they got here: If you think this was just a good-faith gesture by the Lightning, with a playoff spot already locked up, think again. The players all earned their spot in the NHL, head coach John Cooper said.

“First of all, they’re all in the NHL for a reason. They deserve to be here and have worked their tails off.”

Starting with Mathieu Joseph, this former 4th-round pick has played in all 56 games for the Lightning this season, registering 12 goals and 19 points overall. Joseph is the most skilled player on this line and brings plenty of energy to the Lightning lineup. Gemel Smith is also a former 4th-round pick, and he has 88 games under his NHL resume while playing for the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins. Last but not least, Daniel Walcott is a feel-good story of perseverance and dedication to hockey. He is a former 5th-round draft choice and has spent the past seven years grinding it out in the minors to finally earn his chance in the NHL. While not as skilled as Joseph, Walcott nicely compliments and rounds out this line with some much needed grit and tenacity.

The Significance of the Moment: As hockey struggles to attract diversity among youth hockey enrollment, moments like these matter. It especially matters to Black kids who have thought twice about wanting to strive to play in the NHL. This moment of starting an NHL game with the first all-Black forward line in history comes just after the Ontario Reign, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, dressed the first all-Black forward line in professional hockey when they started Quinton Byfield, Akil Thomas, and Devante Smith-Pelly in a game back in March. With defining and history-making moments like these, the NHL is hoping it can attract a broader and more diverse fanbase in the hopes of truly making hockey for everyone.

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A Question for the Peanut Gallery

What more can the NHL do to inspire young Black hockey players?

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