Lightning Starting All-Black Forward Line 'Was Pretty Cool Moment,' Says HC

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2021

Tampa Bay Lightning center Gemel Smith (46) pushes the puck away fromt Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jordan Martinook (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Lightning made history Monday by becoming the first NHL team to start a forward line comprised completely of Black players.

It was announced as part of the broadcast during the second period of Monday's game between the Lightning and Florida Panthers that the Bolts did something that had never been done before in the NHL by opening the game with Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Daniel Walcott up front:


Tampa makes history! #HockeyIsForEveryone https://t.co/94MwLN1msh

Per NHL.com's William Douglas, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the following about the historic triumvirate: "First of all, they're all in the NHL for a reason. 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."

The Lightning lost Monday's game 4-0, and the trio of Joseph, Smith and Walcott combined for two shots on goal and 11 hits. Walcott made his NHL debut in the contest and picked up a fighting major after battling Panthers defenseman Kevin Connauton.

While it was Walcott's first NHL game, Joseph has now appeared in 56 games this season and 163 games over three seasons with the Lightning, and Smith has appeared in 88 career NHL games with the Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins and Lightning.

With regard to playing alongside Walcott and Smith, Joseph said:

"It's a step in the right direction. My goal, and the goal of players of color in this league, obviously want to showcase their sports to your families or other people of color. It's definitely awesome to be one of the guys who were for that, and it was all from the coaching staff that did that tonight, but it's a great recognition, for sure."

Douglas noted that while an all-Black line starting an NHL game had never happened before Monday, it has occurred at other levels of professional hockey. Most recently, the American Hockey League's Ontario Reign—the Los Angeles Kings' affiliate—started Quinton Byfield, Akil Thomas and Devante Smith-Pelly together on March 22.

Monday's game was a playoff preview, as the Lightning and Panthers will clash in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Florida owning home-ice advantage by virtue of Monday's win.