Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield and Devante Smith-Pelly skated into the history books Sunday when they formed the first all-Black line in professional hockey since the late 1940s.
The forwards for Ontario, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, combined to score six points (four goals, two assists) in a 5-4 shootout win against Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers). They were the first Black players to skate together in a pro game since brothers Herb Carnegie and Ozzie Carnegie, and Manny McIntyre, for Sherbrooke in the Quebec Senior Hockey League in 1948-49. The line had played together before in the early 1940s.
“It is history in the making all over again and, of course, it reminded me of my father and the legacy he left,” said Bernice Carnegie, Herb Carnegie’s daughter. “How wonderful is this? I’m really happy for the young men.”
The Hockey Hall of Fame has reached out to the Kings and Reign for materials from the game.
Thomas scored his first pro hat trick in a span of 2:43 late in the third period to help Ontario rally from down 4-1, tying the game with 23 seconds remaining. The second-round pick (No. 51) of the Kings in the 2018 NHL Draft also scored in the shootout.
Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, scored to make it 1-0 at 4:43 of the first with a secondary assist from Smith-Pelly and had the primary assist on Thomas’ second goal. It was the first point in three AHL games for Smith-Pelly, who joined the Reign on a professional tryout contract March 14. He helped the Washington Capitals team win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and last played professionally with Kunlun in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2019-20.
College hockey in Canada had an all-Black line in 1970 when forwards Bob Dawson, Percy Paris and Darrell Maxwell played for Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“They certainly had an impact on the game, for sure,” said Dawson, a Black hockey historian who lives in Ottawa. “Oh, wow, I was kind of excited. It brought memories of what we did at St. Mary’s, the Carnegies and Manny McIntyre. We’re in a rather unique class.”
John Paris Jr., who became the first Black coach to win a professional hockey championship when he led Atlanta of the International Hockey League to the Turner Cup in 1994, had tried unsuccessfully for years to form an all-Black unit (three forwards, two defensemen) while coaching junior and minor league hockey.
He said the performance of the line in Ontario shattered any remaining myths about hockey players of color.
“This just basically proves that athletes, regardless of the gender, race or culture, can succeed when the opportunity is provided,” Paris Jr. said. “We can be proud of this, everybody, not just people of color. The hockey world itself should be very, very proud of this. It’s something that will be talked about for a long time.”
Then Paris returned to his coaching viewpoint to break down why the line was successful and could remain so.
“Smith-Pelly will play a solid, heavier game on the wall, but he has some skill,” Paris said. “Thomas is very skilled and talented. Byfield is a big man with skill and talent. They just fit. They could be blue, and they would still fit on a line because of the qualities that they bring.”
Photos: Le Studio de Hockey/HHOF