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Cincinnati Cyclones Historic Starting Line Up 2024

Source: Cincinnati Cyclones / ECHL

The Cincinnati Cyclones have etched their name in pro hockey history.

During their March 30 game against West Virginia’s Wheeling Nailers, Cincinnati made a groundbreaking move by fielding a starting lineup comprised entirely of Black players. It marked the first time in professional hockey history when a team deployed a forward and defensive unit consisting entirely of Black athletes.

Under the leadership of Cyclones’ head coach Jason Payne, one of the two Black head coaches of the ECHL, Black players Landon Cato, Elijah Gonsalves, Jalen Smereck, Kyle Bollers, and Josh Burnside took the ice as the starting lineup.

Throughout the game, the Cyclones showed off their athletic prowess and skills on the ice. According to WLWT, Smereck achieved a milestone for the Cyclones, setting a new record for points by a defenseman with 70, courtesy of an assist in the first period. Utilizing their strengths and combined talent, the team defeated Wheeling 3-2. 

The Cyclones have a history of making strides in hockey diversity.

In 2021, Jason Payne, the team’s head coach, became the first Black head coach in the ECHL.

Payne is a member of the NHL Coaches Association BIPOC, an initiative to support coaches in several areas, including skills development, leadership strategies, and communication tactics. He also serves as the team’s Director of Hockey Operations and leads the Cincinnati Cyclones Foundation, where he helps to expand hockey at the youth level, according to a press release.

“We are going to remain committed to continuing our development both on and off the ice for our players and in the community,” Payne said at the time of his historic appointment. “As an organization, we are equally committed to continuing the growth of minor league hockey, as well as the overall growth of the sport in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Area. From our fans, to our players, to our staff, this is a first-class organization and I will continue to treat it as such. I’m excited for what this season will bring for our team.”

In 2022, under Payne’s leadership, the Cyclones achieved another historic moment when they competed against the Kalamazoo Wings led by head coach Joel Martin, who is also Black. The match marked the first instance in ECHL history where two Black head coaches faced each other in a game. In 2022, Martin became the first Black head coach in K-Wings history to lead the hockey team. 


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