“It’s a step in the right direction,” Joseph said. “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.”
Anson Carter, a Black hockey analyst for NBC Sports and a former NHL forward, called the line’s debut a significant moment for hockey. Carter scored 421 points (202 goals, 219 assists) in 674 games for the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes from 1996-2007.
It was Walcott’s NHL debut; the 27-year-old left wing had one shot on goal in 10:03 of ice time. He was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round (No. 140) of the 2014 NHL Draft and acquired in a trade by the Lightning on June 1, 2015, for a seventh-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
“[Lightning coach Jon Cooper] did something really special here to promote this for young kids,” Walcott said. “There was a lot of ups and downs growing up. I left hockey for a while to play football, then clawed my way back. To step on the ice for my first NHL game, I felt good.”
Joseph, a 24-year-old right wing, scored 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 56 games forTampa Bay this season. He left 51 seconds into the first period after his face was struck by the stick of Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe, who received a four-minute penalty for high-sticking, but was able to return and had one shot in 13:38. His younger brother, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, is a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Smith, a 27-year-old center, played 11:26 in his fifth game this season. He has three assists and is the older brother of Detroit Red Wings right wing Givani Smith.
“In the locker room, I saw the lineup,” said Panthers forward Anthony Duclair, who is Black. “That’s great to see. I’m so proud. Just the way that the NHL is moving forward, it’s great to see. For those guys, I’m sure it was a special night for them, and for Walcott, first game, I’m sure he was very pleased. But that was an unbelievable feeling, even for myself playing against those guys. It was great to see.”
In addition to their three Black players, Tampa Bay also has two Black coaches, video coach Nigel Kirwan and goaltending coach Frantz Jean.
“First of all, they’re all in the NHL for a reason,” Cooper said. “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.”
All-Black lines have been extremely rare in professional hockey since brothers Herb and Ozzie Carnegie and Manny McIntyre skated on the first documented line for Sherbrooke in the Quebec Senior Hockey League in 1948-49. They had played together before in the early 1940s.
Flint of the United Hockey League featured an all-Black line in 1998-99 of Khalil Thomas, Jayson Payne and Nick Forbes.
On March 22, Thomas’ son, center Akil Thomas, played on a line with forward Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, and Devante Smith-Pelly for Ontario of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ minor league affiliate.
John Paris Jr., who became the first Black coach to win a professional hockey championship when he guided Atlanta of the International Hockey League to the Turner Cup in 1994, had tried unsuccessfully for years to put together an all-Black unit (three forwards, two defensemen) while coaching junior and minor league hockey. He said the Lightning’s all-Black line is good for hockey and the NHL.
“When you see something, it stays,” Paris said. “It’s important because it will promote the game even more within the various cultural communities. And in the larger community, if you watch a game and you see a multitude of different ethnic groups within it, it just becomes a normality after a while. That creates more attention to the game in a positive manner.”
The Lightning are set to play the Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL.com independent correspondent Alain Poupart contributed to this report