The Cincinnati Cyclones announced on Tuesday that they have hired Jason Payne as the team’s newest head coach. Payne will hold the distinction of being the only Black head coach of a professional men’s hockey team in North America.
This is a huge breakthrough for the sport of hockey. The 45-year-old native of Toronto had previously been serving for the past two seasons as the team’s assistant coach. Payne fills the vacated role left by head coach Matt Thomas, who was recently hired as an assistant coach for the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
Prior to beginning his coaching career, Payne enjoyed a 14-year career as a professional hockey player himself. The former winger played in a number of leagues, including the defunct UHL, the ECHL and AHL. Since hanging up the skates back in 2009, he’s been involved in the hockey world in a multitude of capacities, including consulting the NHL Coaches Association as a member of BIPOC program.
The goal of this program is to support and advance coaches of colour within the sport of hockey. In his two seasons as assistant coach of the Cyclones, Cincinnati qualified for the playoffs each year, however, the 2020 playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19 and the team opted out of the 2020-21 season.
While Payne will be the only Black head coach of a men’s pro team this season, he will not be the only Black head coach of ANY pro team. The Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League are led by Head Coach Mark Joslin, who is Black and one of three people of colour on the club’s coaching staff. Joslin was hired as bench boss of the lone Canadian franchise back on June 7.
The Cyclones also have the distinction of having the only female general manager in the ECHL, AHL and NHL. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, GM Kristin Ropp attended a seminar hosted by the NHL on Diversity and Inclusion last year. The ECHL also had Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President, speak at this year’s summer meetings on inclusivity, diversity, and ways to continue growing the game.
The addition of Payne as a head coach further strengthens the ECHL’s efforts to encourage diversity within the league and in the game of hockey on a wider set scale.