The First Professional Hockey Team to Start an All-Black Skater Lineup

History Made as Cincinnati Cyclones Becomes the First Professional Hockey Team to Start an All-Black Skater Lineup

The Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL made waves on the ice by fielding the first-ever all-Black starting lineup in a professional hockey game in North America.

The lineup consisted of forwards Kyle Bollers, Josh Burnside, and Elijah Gonsalves, as well as defensemen Landon Cato and Jalen Smereck.

“There’s going to be a lot of emotions for everybody, I think,” said Cyclones head coach Jason Payne, a pioneer in his own right as the first-ever Black head coach in the ECHL. “But for myself, just being in the sport as long as I have and seeing the amount of players that have come through, especially players of color, there haven’t been many players of color on one team… to actually have five to six, that’s something special.”

Breaking Down Barriers

The Cyclones’ historic lineup speaks to the team’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the sport of hockey. In 2022, Payne made history when he faced off against Joel Martin of the Kalamazoo Wings, marking the first time in ECHL history that two Black head coaches competed against each other.

“I think is what really helps educate everybody on what hockey is about and, at the end of the day, representation,” Payne said, highlighting the importance of this milestone in promoting diversity and representation in the sport.

A Growing Trend in Hockey

The Cyclones’ achievement is not the first of its kind in professional hockey.

In 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning started an all-Black forward line with Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith, and Daniel Walcott, marking a significant step forward in the sport’s efforts to become more inclusive. Similarly, the Ontario Reign in the AHL featured an all-Black line of Akil Thomas, Joel Ward, and Quentin Byfield.

The history-making lineup not only made headlines but also produced impressive individual performances. Defenseman Jalen Smereck set a Cyclones record for points by a defenseman (70) with an assist in the first period, further cementing the team’s place in the annals of professional hockey.