Tampa Bay Lightning Makes NHL History with All-Black Starting Forward Line: 'A Special Night'

Hockey players Daniel Walcott, Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith started during Monday night's game for the Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo: NHL/Twitter

NHL history has been made in Tampa Bay.

On Monday night, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper started three Black forwards during their final regular-season game against the Florida Panthers. Daniel Walcott, Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith kicked off the game together at the center and wing spots, getting the news about the starting lineup just a few minutes before the game.

"First time ever in NHL history they have started an all-Black line in this league. A big, historic moment tonight for sure," said a Lightning broadcast commentator during the game, according to a video the NHL tweeted.

"First of all, they're all in the NHL for a reason," 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."

Panthers forward Anthony Dunclair, who is Black, also shared his reaction to seeing the trio start together at the game.

"That's great to see," he said, ESPN reported. "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."

Less than five percent of NHL players are Black or persons of color, FiveThirtyEight reported last October. Smith and Walcott, who played in his first NHL game, aren't regulars on the Tampa Bay roster, which had teammate Joseph excited about the joint experience.

"It was great, man," Joseph said, ESPN reported. "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. I thank the coaching staff for doing this."

Walcott added that he hopes young Black kids interested in hockey find inspiration in moments like Monday's game. "A whirlwind of emotion, a long time coming," he said, according to the outlet. "To get into that starting lineup was great. ... Coop did something really special here to promote this for young kids."

The Lightning ultimately lost Monday's game to the Panthers, 4-0.

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