Akil Thomas helped make history on Sunday, becoming part of the first all-Black line in professional hockey since the 1940s, while turning in one of the best performances of his career.
Thomas, Quinton Byfield and Devante Smith-Pelly formed the historic line during the AHL's Ontario Reign's 5-4 shootout win over the Bakersfield Condors. Byfield scored on a breakaway, while Thomas recorded a natural hat trick in the third period, forcing the game into overtime.
Thomas spoke about the impact of the line and the importance of being an inspiration to younger Black kids in hockey.
"We have four Black guys on our team so it didn't feel crazy that we were all put on a line together. It was moreso, for me, it's cool just so young Black kids who play hockey who are younger, can kind of see that and maybe get inspired by it," Thomas said Monday in a video posted to the Los Angeles Kings' Twitter account.
"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 colour 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."
Thomas has already emerged as a national hero, scoring the winning goal for Canada in the gold medal game of the 2020 World Juniors, and has been a prolific scorer at every stage of his career. Along with Byfield – the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and one of the best prospects in hockey overall – and Smith-Pelly, who won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, Thomas and his peers are already making an impact in a sport that has often failed to welcome Black athletes or other people of colour.
As Thomas continues to progress throughout his career, we look forward to him making a strong case to crack the Kings roster this season, although if he continues to score prolifically in bunches, perhaps they should consider adding him or Byfield as a midseason call-up.
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