The Boldly Jacksonville series presented by Swisher, has featured the rich history of Jacksonville Hockey. A history that shares the stories of several popular franchises, big games, unique logos and well-known names of the game. Jacksonville’s Hockey lore includes a remarkable moment of the second all-black line in professional hockey history. A line comprised of Daniel Hickman, Kahlil Thomas and Tyrone Garner was formed by the Jacksonville Barracudas during the 2006-07 season.
While the Barracudas were the second in professional hockey to assemble an all-black line, there were three other occasions that paved the way for Jacksonville to take its place in history. The first known line to take the ice was with the Quebec Senior Hockey League’s Sherbrooke St. Francois during the 1948-49 season when the Carnegie Brothers, Herb and Ozzie, teamed up with Manny McIntyre.
Hockey would have to wait nearly 22 years in 1970 for the moment to reprise itself, when St. Mary’s University and head coach Bob Boucher placed Percy Paris, Darrell Maxwell and Bob Dawson on the same line.
The first all-black line in professional hockey became official during the 1998-99 season when the Flint Generals of the now defunct United Hockey League (UHL) sent out Kahlil Thomas, Nick Forbes and current Cincinnati Cyclones head coach Jayson Payne.
The feat would happen again during the 2006-07 season with the Barracudas, and ironically Kahlil Thomas would take part of another trail blazing line with Tyrone Garner and Daniel Hickman. In this article, Hickman reminisces about this memorable achievement.
Hickman (pictured above) grew up in Hamden, Connecticut and played collegiately at Southern New Hampshire University from 2001-2005 before starting his professional career in 2005-2006. After stints that year with in the UHL and Central Hockey League, Hickman first came to the Sunshine State when he signed with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s (SPHL) Jacksonville Barracudas.
“I would have never thought I would play for a team in Florida, or even move here,” said Hickman. “I’m used to skating on ponds and shoveling snow. I landed in Jax after I started e-mailing coaches the old school style approach. Ron Dugay (Barracudas head coach) hit me up and told me If I can be in Knoxville two days from now, you can play. I drove down from Connecticut.”
Hickman recalled how supportive and passionate the fans in Northeast Florida were.
“Jacksonville really embraced their players. There were a lot of fans that wanted to buy your jersey or meet us at Applebee’s after games and do autographs. It just made you feel special.”
Hickman played 15 games in Jacksonville during that 2005-06 season and would leave temporarily the following year to start the season with the Pee Dee Cyclones (SPHL). Hickman returned to Jacksonville later that year and appeared in an additional 23 games with the Barracudas, helping guide the team to the SPHL Finals.
“When we made the playoffs, we were the last seed, but because we were a team that did everything together, we did well. We played beach volleyball together, would go to the beach and have fun together, we had that camaraderie the other teams didn’t have. We had to play the finals at Skate World and it was packed. I swear you couldn’t hear your teammates. I couldn't hear my linemate’s voice. It gives me goosebumps now just thinking about it—it was so loud.”
While the team that season orchestrated a memorial playoff run that fell just short in the finals, the team took part in another remarkable moment, as another all-black line was assembled during the season.
“I had never ever played against another minority player before,” said Hickman. “And I had never played with a minority before. At the time you didn’t even know it was history. I think Kahlil (Thomas) had something to do with it. I didn’t think anything of it. I was just like this is going to be a great line together, that’s bottom line, let’s kill it, let’s do it. It was very fun. We did damage too; I just remember many times skating to center ice after a goal or an assist and after something we ended up going back to the faceoff dot at center ice because it happened so many times.”
Making the story even more unique, was the fact that Tyrone Garner spent his entire career as a goalie, even appearing in three games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames during the 1998-99 season, but due to an injury he sustained overseas, Garner’s days as a netminder ended, and he skated out as a forward during his time with the Barracudas
“Tyrone would skate through people on the ice, and set up plays,” explained Hickman. “Kahlil was kind of like Sidney Crosby setting up plays and a good skater, and then you had me, who was skilled with a hard slapshot. We were a perfect combination. When we got out there, I felt like we were feared. I think it definitely sparked everyone on the team. It was cool that we didn’t know we were making history. We just knew we had two beasts and a very skilled player on one line together, regardless of what our nationality was. It was just something that people didn’t really see and to see us flying out there. Me and Kahlil are great skaters and to see Ty Garner (pictured below) who was surprisingly a really good skater for being a goalie.”
When asked about that first game the trio was placed together on the same line, Hickman excitedly recalled their line getting the start in the game.
“I think we might have started because it was so unique. I wish there were pictures of the national anthem from that day. Just thinking about it is getting me all excited to play hockey right now, I haven’t played in a while, so it’s giving me that bug right now!”
At the time, Hickman didn’t think too much of the situation. It was about playing well, winning, and enjoying the moment with his teammates. However, as the years progressed, Hickman reflects more on how significant it really was. Over the course of history, minorities in the sport have had to endure instances of discrimination because they stood out, or simply because of the color of their skin. Hickman has had to deal with these issues and remembers doing so from a very early age.
“I think it’s something I look back at now and reflect on more now. There’s a lot. To the exterior world to a lot of people out there they see an article or the situation of an all-black line, made history, that’s awesome. But there’s a lot of stereotypes or people looking at you differently or talking to you differently because of what you look like way before. I remember being on mini mites, I was like six or seven, in Hampden, Connecticut. This gentleman who ended up being nice to me later on and apologized to me randomly when he was 22 years old, but we had to skate to the red line and back, blue line and back and I just kept winning. I kept beating everyone and I got to the goal line and I remember this kid looking at me with an angry face and saying something so mean and I didn’t know what it was. I knew it was mean and a very toxic comment. He called me the N-word and I didn’t know what that meant, as I was just six or seven years old. My dad told me later what it meant. But as early as that, playing with kids you heard it.”
As a youth, to even as an adult playing professional hockey, Hickman experienced several instances of racism directed his way. And while these moments were hurtful and unsettling, Hickman says there were many throughout his hockey path that lifted him up and provided support.
“I see myself as a chameleon, hanging out with all different types of people. In college and in the pros, my Caucasian friends and teammates all had my back. That’s the thing about hockey, it’s a love. And even though I’m different they support me. Someone says something bad to me, they have my back. It’s a brotherhood. The all-black line thing is amazing, and I am proud of it. What people need to understand is there is a lot of stuff and that me, Kahlil and Ty had a lot of adversity that we have gone through that has allowed us to become who we are today. The support of the brotherhood and also that inner grit to keep pushing and that’s helped.”
As of today, in total there have been six all-black lines assembled in hockey and things are certainly trending to see more. Most recently in the past couple of years, two more lines have taken the ice. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Gemel Smith, Daniel Walcott and Mathieu Joseph recently skated together. Then in March of 2021, the son of Kahlil Thomas (pictured below), Akil Thomas continued his father’s legacy while with the Ontario Reign of the AHL when he took the ice with Devante Smith-Pelly and Los Angeles King first-round draft selection Quinton Byfield.
Hickman adds that these pioneering moments and the perseverance displayed by him, and other players of color have made an impact on younger generations eager to play the game.
“I agree, it just snowballs, it’s great, it’s awesome. The New Haven Nighthawks’ Peter Worrell, I remember seeing him as we left the parking lot. He was wearing a leather jacket, and I went up to him and he signed a stick for me and it was a ground breaking moment. So, it’s the same thing I did for several kids in South Carolina, Tulsa, Jacksonville, Reading, Richmond. You’re making a difference. Willie O’Ree, Peter Worrell battled through, and it has all turned into one big movement. And hockey is such a beautiful sport full of brotherhood. Color is not really a thing when you’re on a team.”
Today, Hickman lives in North Florida, and is a youth hockey coach at the Community First Igloo in Jacksonville. He hosts The Competitive Edge Podcast, which focuses on men's health and wellness and providing inspiration to them as they age, go through fatherhood and find ways to be at their best both mentally and physically. He also has three daughters and two of them are currently playing hockey, creating a full-circle path for him.
“My daughter Savannah sees the ice better than I did. She’s just a natural and loves the games. She did 8U with the boys last season. For her, she was similar to me and she stood out. In her case, she was the only girl on the team. So that goes a long way and whatever we did in the past it just trickles down along the way.”