Jason Payne |  Continue to lead the way

Jason Payne | Continue to lead the way

In an ideal world, Jason Payne would have been called first to speak about his team, the Cincinnati Cyclones, opponents of the Lions on Wednesday at the Coliseum in Trois-Rivières.

Posted at 7:00 a.m.

Mathias Brunet

Mathias Brunet
The Press

But when you’re the only black professional coach in North America, out of nearly 100 positions, social and racial issues take over.

“It’s a great source of pride for me,” says Payne, promoted to head coach of this ECHL club after two seasons as an assistant. We have to send the message that hockey is accessible to everyone. John Paris paved the way for us back then. Dirk Graham also, briefly, in the NHL. Graeme Townshend also managed in the ECHL about twenty years ago. We must continue to open the door for those who will follow. »

Payne said he often faced racism in minor hockey and during his professional career in the UHL, ECL and LNAH.


Jason Payne, Cincinnati Cyclones coach

“I grew up in Toronto and was often the only black person on my teams. But I loved this sport and I wanted to keep playing. Opposing players make racist remarks to you. They try to distract you. Those words hurt me at first. But over the years, you learn to deal with that. Words no longer reach you. You don’t want to let the opponent see that these remarks bother you. »

He also realizes that not everyone easily accepts seeing a black man running a hockey club. “As a coach, you don’t always have the right to the same respect as white coaches. Sometimes referees refuse to come talk to me to explain their decisions, when they do with the opposing coach. I respect them, but if they don’t want to respect me back, too bad for them. I don’t want them to think they have an effect on me. I can only conduct myself in the most professional manner possible. Sometimes it’s the staff at the arena, the staff of opposing teams who act differently. »

However, the culture has evolved over the years to promote diversity in hockey and combat racism. An organization founded by hockey players Evander Kane and Akim Aliu, Hockey Diversity Alliance, is a step in the right direction.

Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters also resigned in 2019 after being linked to racist incidents 10 years earlier in Rockford, AHL.

“It’s a shame that it didn’t happen at the time, at the time of the incidents, but at least it caused an important movement, says Jason Payne. It had to be publicly denounced. The situation is improving, and it must continue to improve. »

Jason Payne didn’t have many role models back then. There was Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr, and Tony McKegney of the Buffalo Sabers and Quebec Nordiques. But his great friend goalkeeper Kevin Weekes, above all, had a strong influence on him.


Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Kevin Weekes and José Théodore, Montreal Canadiens goaltender, May 13, 2002.

We grew up together. He’s one of my best friends. He played several years in the NHL and became an analyst at NHL Network. He never stopped believing in his dreams. That’s all we wanted.

Jason Payne on Kevin Weekes

There were also Jarome Iginla, Claude Vilgrain, Anson Carter, Georges Laraque, Donald Brashear, Dustin Byfuglien, Trevor Daly, Mike Greer, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, and today the PK Subban, Seth Jones, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, Mathieu Joseph, Anthony Duclair, Quinton Byfield, Jordan Greenway, Darnell Nurse, Lucas Raymond, Ryan Reaves, Kyle Okposo, Jordan Harris and many more.

“We have to make hockey accessible to everyone,” said Payne, 46. But not just by getting the message across. It is also a sport that is expensive and it is necessary to facilitate the life of less fortunate sportsmen. »

Our man also has ties to Quebec. “I played in the LNAH for a few seasons, with the Dragons de Verdun and Radio X de Québec. We won the championship with Verdun, then with Radio X the following year. My daughter was born in Quebec and grew up there. She still lives there with her mother. »

He was able to measure the impact of PK Subban in Quebec. “I trained him on occasion. I was with him when he was going to sign his bridge contract with the Canadian. Management was getting ready to fly out to negotiate the contract. He won the Norris Trophy the following year. He inspired many young people in Quebec. »

Jason Payne experiences the vagaries of ECHL coaching. Fifty-three players wore the Cyclones uniform last winter! “With COVID and injuries, there is a lot of movement of personnel. The Sabers had a lot of injuries and recalled players from Rochester, AHL. So these are reminiscent of players from our club…”

Where does he see himself in the long term? “I want to continue to develop players, but the goal would obviously be to reach the NHL. »

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