2024 Wheeling Nailers vs Cincinnati Cyclones

Cincinnati Cyclones Make History With All-Black Starting Lineup In ECHL

Cincinnati Cyclones Make History With All-Black Starting Lineup In ECHL

The Cincinnati Cyclones became the first team in pro hockey history to ice a starting lineup that featured five black skaters.

Mar 31, 2024 by Chris Peters

The Cincinnati Cyclones are the first team in professional hockey history known to have iced a starting lineup of five black skaters. 

Jalen Smereck, Landon Cato, Josh Burnside, and new rookie additions Kyle Bollers and Elijah Gonsalves were on the ice for the opening faceoff of the Cyclones’ Central Division showdown with the Wheeling Nailers Saturday night in Cincinnati.

The team is led by Jason Payne, one of two Black head coaches currently working in North American professional hockey. He was also part of the historic first matchup between two Black head coaches when he led the Cyclones against the Kalamazoo Wings and head coach Joel Martin last season, so the Cyclones have been no stranger to making history.

Teams in the past have had all-Black lines, often among forwards or all-black D pairings. But this is believed to be the first time ever a game has started with five black players appearing in all five skater spots on the ice.

In 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning started a forward line that included Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Daniel Walcott, which was a first in NHL history. Earlier that year, Akil Thomas, Joel Ward and Quentin Byfield played as a trio for the Ontario Reign in the AHL.

Perhaps the most famous instance of an all-Black lineup was the “Black Aces” who played for the Sherbrooke Saints in the Quebec Provincial Hockey League. That trio featured Hockey Hall of Famer Herb Carnegie, his brother Ossie Carnegie and Manny McIntyre.

Now add the Cincinnati Cyclones to the list of teams that have made important history in hockey's ongoing quest to be more inclusive and diverse.

Jalen Smereck has been among the top players in the ECHL this season, playing big minutes as the No. 1 defenseman for the Cyclones. A former draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes, Smereck leads the Cyclones with 69 points.

Josh Burnside is in his third season with Cincinnati after spending some time overseas earlier this year with the Coventry Blaze in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. He is a veteran of more than 170 ECHL games.

Landon Cato is in his rookie season with the team after playing three years in the Ontario Hockey League with the Niagara Ice Dogs.

Kyle Bollers and Elijah Gonsalves are just getting their pro careers started. Bollers made his debut Friday after signing out of Toronto Metropolitan University, while Gonsalves was appearing in his first pro game Saturday after wrapping up his season with RIT at the NCAA national tournament.

Payne has been a vocal proponent of inclusivity in the sport of hockey and, as one of the few Black head coaches in the sport, has been doing the work with his own team to show it. 

The Cyclones only have a few weeks left this season as they attempt to push for a playoff spot in the especially tight Central Division, but Saturday night’s history-making starting lineup will certainly be a highlight that is far bigger than the games that were played this season.