Family is always very important, and if you have a “hockey” family it sometimes is even more important. The tolerance, understanding and support of a family dedicated to hockey is uncommon.
The Thomas family has had their share of ups and downs over the last several years, but hockey remains an important focal point.
Kahlil Thomas has been involved with the game for several decades. He had a good youth hockey experience moving up several levels based on his pure skills and athletic ability.
His love for the game took him all the way to the professional hockey ranks (AHL, CHL, IHL,SPHL, and Germany).
Yes, of course, Kahlil Thomas has his stories.
It is said that all black players in the white man’s sport of ice hockey have some interesting stories.
When he played youth hockey opposing players called Thomas the N-word and sadly his son Akil plays in that same environment today decades later from his fathers experiences.
While playing pro Kahlil experienced being called the N-word during games. After the contest” The culprit in one game when he played in the CHL said, you know what? I’m sorry. I only said that to get you off your game. You were the best player on your team, and I wanted to get you off your game. I’m not like that.
‘Kahlil remembers that after a youth hockey game, when he scored three or four goals in a victory, the opposing coach yelled as Thomas was heading toward the dressing room.
“You need to get a bar of soap to wipe the black off your skin, the coach screamed.”
Ironically this was reported to be the same comment made by to Herb Carnegie hockey’s first black superstar by Conn Smythe.
In the late 1930s, Carnegie was a member of the Young Rangers Junior A club in Toronto. The team would often practice at Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I was good enough for the Leafs because, according to Conn Smythe, ‘I would take Carnegie tomorrow for the Maple Leafs if someone could turn him white,’” Carnegie recalled in an interview, choking back emotion.
“I got that statement when I was 18. How would you feel? I can’t forget it because he cut my knees off, he broke my legs … it’s horrible.
“I loved the game and I feel cheated. I didn’t get the chance to prove myself. I just had a door closed where I couldn’t participate. As much fun as I had in the game, I had pain because I couldn’t have that other step” he said in a interview prior to his passing at 87.
When Thomas was very young, he said he would stop skating and break down crying whenever he heard a racial slur.
“But 90 percent of it’s just name calling, and what’s a name? It’s just a name, Thomas said. “At times, it hurt. At times, it wouldn’t.
The National Hockey League, was founded in 1917 and has never had more players of African descent than now. Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, PK Subban, Ray Emery, Anthony DuClair, Kyle Okposo, and more now have regular spots on NHL squads.
“I don’t think being a black man has hurt me in hockey, Thomas said. “I think in a way it’s made me stronger. You can’t be just average in this game as a black hockey player. You have to be above average.
He said he didn’t feel he had the talent to be in the NHL, but there is little doubt that his sons do. His eldest son, Akil is a top forward playing for the Toronto Marlies and St. Michaels College. His second son Akyn, is also a top scorer on his youth team. Thomas has scored 838 points in 681 pro hockey games.
Thomas did have enough hockey talent and ability to excel in the minor leagues and to get out of the high rises of the Flemingdon Park neighborhood in Toronto. The city began to consider a large planned “apartment city” community for the influx of immigrants after World War II and Khalil’s family settled in the area which had a heavy mixture of ethnic groups.
Kahlil Thomas’ mother, Katharine, is of Portuguese and Guyanese descent Khalil’s father, Don, is from Guyana.
Kahlil, was raised by his grandmother, until moving into his own apartment when he was 16. “Our mom worked three or four jobs, so we didn’t see her a lot he and my father was not with us” he said.
Kahlil had no choice, but to learn some lessons on the street. He was also lucky enough to receive tutelage with older men who were good hockey players and cared enough to teach him the lessons he craved on the ice.
Like in many “ethnic communities” in North America there were many skilled but undiscovered athletes who never had much chance to develop their skills and Flemingdon Park was no exception.
“We had a lot of black hockey players there, but they never played professionally. They only played up to a certain age, when they decided that making illegal money was easier than putting in the effort to move up in the hockey ranks. “Most of my friends made that choice” he said. Fortunately, that wasn’t for me. Hockey was the thing that I decided was going to get me out of Flemingdon, and it did” he said.
The Thomas family put down roots in Michigan, Oklahoma and Florida in the US prior to moving back to Toronto, Canada partially to support his son’s opportunities. While living in Florida the family lost everything in a fire and did not have full insurance to cover the losses. They kept moving forward despite the tragedy and were strengthened as a family.
After returning to the Toronto area Kahlil worked at a tire warehouse, while hiring on as a private hockey instructor to earn extra money to support his family. After he finished his fulltime job he turn to doing private coaching of youth hockey players.
Kahlil is widely acknowledged as a first class coach in the US and Canada and has had great success taking youth players to the next level. His training credo describes his style; Go Hard or Go Home.
Kahlil and his wife Akilah are the parents of five children. Kahlia 18, Akil Thomas 15,Kayah Thomas 9, Akyn Thomas 7 and Kayjah Thomas 4.
Recently he accepted a new challenge becoming coach and owner of the Oshawa River Kings junior A team. The opportunity was intriguing to Thomas, “Much of it is what I am trained for over the years playing the sport and watching how teams were managed when I was a player. When the chance came I jumped at it” he said.
Ever the perfectionist coach Thomas,when he was asked what were his thoughts about his son Akil’s development? He responded “he is doing fine, but we have some off ice to work on this summer.”
Both of his son’s are playing on youth hockey teams in the Toronto area. Akil is forecasted by many coaches as a top junior prospect and currently plays for the Toronto Marlies while attending St. Michaels College. His younger brother, Akyn, is also making a name for himself leading his mite team by scoring at a goal a game average and showing unusual offensive instincts for his age.
The Thomas hockey family is thriving again. Some time you can go back home.