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Color of Hockey

Kings prospect follows father's path, skates on all-Black line

Thomas joins Byfield, Smith-Pelly to make history 15 years after his dad

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

Akil Thomas saw his family history repeat itself on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Kings prospect teamed with Quinton Byfield and Devante Smith-Pelly to form the first all-Black line in the history of Ontario of the American Hockey League. 

The forwards for the AHL affiliate of the Kings combined to score six points (four goals, two assists) in a 5-4 shootout win against Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers).

Thomas' father, Kahlil Thomas, was a forward who twice played on all-Black lines during his minor league career.

"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."

Kahlil Thomas first did it with the Flint Generals of the United Hockey League in 1998-99 playing alongside Jayson Payne and Nick Forbes.

He did it again in 2006 with the Jacksonville Barracudas of the Southern Professional Hockey League, skating with Dan Hickman and Tyrone Garner, a former goalie who played three games in net for the Calgary Flames in 1998-99.

"It was definitely exciting seeing those young guys out there on the ice with old man Smith-Pelly," Kahlil Thomas said of the Ontario line. "Back in the day, we didn't think too much about it, but as you get older you think, 'Holy … I played with an all-Black line and everything.' And when you look back at it, it's definitely accomplishment."

Brothers Herb Carnegie and Ozzie Carnegie, and Manny McIntyre, skated on the first documented all-Black line in professional hockey for Sherbrooke in the Quebec Senior Hockey League in 1948-49. They had played together before in the early 1940s.

Bernice Carnegie, Herb Carnegie's daughter, was thrilled when she learned about the Thomas-Byfield-Smith-Pelly line Sunday night.

"It is history in the making all over again and, of course, it reminded me of my father and the legacy he left," she said. "How wonderful is this? I'm really happy for the young men."

The Hockey Hall of Fame has reached out to the Kings and the Reign for materials from the game.

Thomas scored his first career hat trick in the span of two minutes and 43 seconds late in the third period to erase a 4-1 deficit Sunday. The tying goal was scored with 23 seconds remaining in the third period. Thomas, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft, also scored in the shootout. 

Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, scored at 4:43 in the first period with an assist from Smith-Pelly, who joined the Reign on a professional tryout contract March 14. Byfield assisted on Thomas' second goal.

It was the first point in three AHL games for Smith-Pelley, who was a member of the Washington Capitals team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018. He last played professionally with Kunlun of the Kontinental Hockey in 2019-20.

Canadian college hockey had an all-Black line in 1970 when forwards Bob Dawson, Percy Paris and Darrell Maxwell played for Saint Mary's University.

Dawson said the Ontario line "Certainly had an impact on the game, for sure." 

"Oh, wow, I was kind of excited," said Dawson, a Black hockey historian who lives in Ottawa. "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," he 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."

Photo credit/ Le Studio de Hockey/HHOF

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