Tampa Bay Lightning Makes NHL History by Starting an All-Black Forward Line

Florida Panthers defenseman Kevin Connauton, left, and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Daniel Walcott (85) fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers defenseman Kevin Connauton, left, and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Daniel Walcott (85) fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla.
Photo: Lynne Sladky (AP)

Toward the end of his legendary standup special Never Scared, Chris Rock goes into a bit about the history of slavery and how slave masters used breeding to try to create “super slaves” and how that continues to affect America today.

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“This is why Black people dominate every physical activity in the United States of America. We’re only 10 percent of this population; we’re 90 percent of the Final Four. We fucking dominate all this shit....Basketball, baseball, football, boxing, track, even golf and tennis. As soon as they make a heated hockey rink, we’re going to take that shit, too. Motherfuck Wayne Gretzky. Wait until you see LeBron on some skates.”

The joke continues on into raunchier territory, but I was reminded of that joke when I read that the Tampa Bay Lightning made history Monday night by becoming the first NHL team to start a forward line made up entirely of Black players.

The news that Lightning players Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Daniel Walcott were starting the game up front against the Florida Panthers was announced on-air during the second period of the game, according to the Bleacher Report.


“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,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, according to NHL.com’s William Douglas, the Bleacher Report notes.

Now, I’ll be first to tell you I don’t know shit about hockey, so I’ll let Bleacher Report provide details of the momentous night:

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.

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.

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Even though the Lightning took the L, the moment was a big win for Joseph, Smith and Walcott and for the culture. Now if only we could get LeBron on some hockey skates.

Genetta M. Adams is Managing Editor of The Root.

DISCUSSION

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Woke Up Dead

It’s cool, but you could have picked a better picture than the fight, a goal celebration by one of them maybe? Especially since the bigger Connauton whooped (not Jersey Joe) Walcott to the point that he let up a bit at the end since the refs were too busy with another fight to break up theirs.