All-Black hockey team hopes to advance sport in African American community

Jayar Luedke has been playing hockey since he was just a year old. But this is the first time the Inver Grove Heights High School hockey player has ever been on the ice with an entire team of athletes who look like him.

"It's honestly been a long time coming. I never thought I'd have the experience to because there aren't that many black hockey players in the world and I'm just thankful and grateful I'm able to have this opportunity," said Luedke.

The Panthers are an all-Black hockey team made up of 16 players from seven different states to compete in the Minneapolis 2022 AAA Summer Showdown Hockey Tournament at the Richfield Ice Arena this weekend.

A pair of African American hockey moms from California put the team together as a way for their sons to play with other Black 18U players, showcase their talent and advance the sport in the Black community.

"The more we are seen in the sport, the more comfortable we will be within the space," said Rochelle Papyon, hockey mom from San Jose, California who co-created the team.

Anthony Walsh was on the Edina High School hockey team that won a state championship in 2013.

He says bringing an all black hockey team to Minnesota is particularly meaningful in the "State Of Hockey", where the racial reckoning caused by the murder of George Floyd, has led to an effort to make hockey more diverse and inclusive.

"The images of Black people that you see on TV are not always that pleasant. What is more pleasant, especially in Minnesota than the sight of a bunch of kids on the ice having fun. And guess what They happen to be black," said Walsh, who is an assistant coach for the team.

Luedke hopes the Panthers inspire the next generation of African American children to think about life on the ice in the future.

"Showing that more Black kids can play hockey and that it's not just a white person's sport, that anybody blue, green, indigo can play the sport," said Luedke.