cyclones 5 starters

The Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL made history on Saturday night, becoming the first pro team to start five Black skaters.

Forwards Kyle Bollers, Josh Burnside and Elijah Gonsalves and defensemen Landon Cato and Jalen Smereck comprised the history-making lineup, believed to be the first ever in professional hockey in North America.

The quintet plays for a coach no stranger to breaking down barriers. The Cyclones are coached by Jason Payne, a professional player for 14 seasons across the minor leagues before becoming a Cyclones assistant coach in 2018 and head coach in 2022.

In his first year, he became half of what was believed to be the first pro game in North America where both teams were headed by Black coaches when the Cyclones played Joel Martin and the Kalamazoo Wings.

"There's going to be a lot of emotions for everybody, I think," Payne said in a pregame interview with Cyclones broadcaster Dana Grey. "But for myself, just being in the sport as long as I have and seeing the amount of players that have come through, especially players of color, there haven't been many players of color on one team... to actually have five to six, that's something special."

It wasn't the only history made in the game. Smereck, one of the league's top players, set a Cyclones record for points by a defenseman (70) with a first period assist.

In 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning started an all-Black forward line with Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Daniel Walcott.

Payne, a champion of diversity in hockey, says that moments like the Cyclones had on Saturday can only help the game to grow.

"I think is what really helps educate everybody on what hockey is about and, at the end of the day, representation," Payne said.