Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield, and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Remember those names.

They made history last Sunday night becoming the first all-Black line in the history of Ontario of the American Hockey League.

Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas found out that he’d be joining Byfield and Smith-Pelly on the morning of their game against the Bakersfield Condors.

“We found out in the morning, as soon as I saw it, I texted my dad…,” Thomas said of playing with Byfield and Smith-Pelly. “The accomplishment was unreal. It was a crazy game. I definitely did not expect that to happen. Obviously to get my first hat trick, to obviously get the win, was the best feeling because the game kind of felt out of reach for quite some time.” Thomas’ father, Kahlil Thomas, was a forward who twice played on all-Black lines during his minor league career.

Thomas had a special night, perhaps one of the best games of his career, scoring 3 goals in the third period to force overtime. Byfield, the Kings’ top prospect, also slid one into the net on a breakaway. The Reign would come out on, top 5-4.

Thomas looked fondly at his 3 goal performance, but most importantly, looked at it as a way to make a positive change in the game.

And, to inspire black youth by showing them that they have a place in the game.

“Maybe we can inspire more Black kids to feel like they have a place in the game. That’s really the cool part for me. Obviously, it was cool to play with Q and Devo, but we’re all teammates. It doesn’t really matter what color we are, it’s just cool that we have an opportunity to inspire other people and hopefully grow the game a little bit at the same time.”

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In September 2020, The NHL announced initiatives to combat racism, accelerate inclusion efforts among the League, its Member Clubs, and the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

Most NHL teams have had long-standing relationships with their communities and initiatives to make the game more diverse, but the league is aware and ready to do more.

“Everyone should be able to live and work in an environment that is inclusive, and one that is free from racism and discrimination in any form. In our sport, from the NHL to youth programs, we must take actions to achieve that goal, and to make our sport available and accessible to all,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director.

For many years, hockey was a predominantly white sport – It still is. But, with movements like Black Lives Matter and the fight against social injustice taking center stage in 2020, the NHL is now inspired to make a change for the better (long overdue).

The league has made a promise to make the sport accessible to more minority communities around the world. The future of the league is strong.

The future is watching the Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield, and Devante Smith-Pelly line and saying, “Yeah, I can do that.”

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