10 minutes before the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers were set to face off on May 10th, Tampa coach Jon Cooper unveiled his lineup. For the first time in NHL history, three black men were assigned to a line together, and were given the nod to start the game for the team.
In a move that many around the league are praising, the Lightning started the game with Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith, and Daniel Walcott occupying the forward positions. NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes went so far as to say that this is a ‘watershed moment’ for the league.
Many anticipated the Lightning trotting that lineup out after calling up Daniel Walcott from the team’s taxi squad. It was the 27 year old’s NHL debut after having spent six years on Tampa’s minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
Both the Panthers and the Lightning had already secured their playoff spot prior to the game, and are slated to play one another in the first round of the tournament. Despite the outcome of the game not having great impact on the standings at the end of the season, the importance of the move by Tampa is what made last night’s game special.
Movements for recognition of black hockey players have gained more traction this season after the league’s lack of support was heavily criticized by players such as Evander Kane and Akeem Aliu. Black players in the league even went so far as to create the HDA (Hockey Diversity Alliance) to better support players of colour in the NHL.
“First of all, they’re all in the NHL for a reason. They deserve to be here and have worked their tails off,” said coach Cooper. “Moving forward in the league, you hope it isn’t a story anymore and will be the norm.
SOURCES: THEATHLETIC.COM, CBC.CA, BLEACHERREPORT.COM, ESPN.COM