Former ECHL All-Star and South Carolina Stingrays Alumni Jordan Samuels-Thomas was a part of NHL history on April 14th when he and fellow linesman Shandor Alphonso became the first two Black officials to work together in an NHL game. The historic match took place at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, where the hometown Chicago Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-4 in a shootout. That night, Samuels-Thomas made his NHL debut as an official and became the first Black referee to work as an on-ice official since Jay Sharrers in 2004. Coincidentally, Sharrers worked as the managing official for the match and once again experienced a part of hockey history.
That night, Samuels-Thomas wore the infamous number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, the first MLB player to break the color barrier in 1947. "When I played, I was No. 42 for a reason and with the opportunity to wear this number [it] was easy," Samuels-Thomas said. "… Being able to wear Jackie's number is always special, so I got to do it as a player and now as an official. I wish I could keep this number forever." (1)
The West Hartford, Conn., native was drafted to the NHL back in 2009 as the #203 overall pick by the Atlanta Thrashers. Although Samuels-Thomas never suited up in an NHL game as a player, he spent six years playing mid-level professional hockey in the AHL, ECHL, and multiple European leagues before becoming an on-ice official. In Samuels-Thomas’ second to last season of his playing career, he spent just under half a season with the Stingrays and played 26 games during the 2018-19 season. (2) Samuels-Thomas tallied six goals and 12 assists that season and played in four playoff games, recording one goal and two assists before the Rays were eliminated by the Orlando Solar Bears in six games. (3)
The former Stingray was a crucial piece to the team during the single season he spent with the organization. "He's a guy that has the potential to be a dominant presence every night in this league," said former head coach for the Stingrays Spiros Anastas. “When he controls the puck behind the net and below the goal line, he’s almost unstoppable. He’s really bought into what we’ve been trying to do and his presence has been felt …” (4)
After finishing his playing career following the 2019-20 season, Samuels-Thomas attended the NHL officials' training camp in September 2021. Now, he is one of the newly hired officials in the NHL and has become the third-ever Black ref to suit up in the world's greatest hockey league. "It's a dream come true, sort of like being drafted again," he said. "The opportunity to work or pursue being in the NHL is unbelievable and it's something that I've been chasing since I was a little kid." (5)
Before officiating in the NHL, Samuels-Thomas began where most officials and players start as they work their way to the big leagues, in the minors. He started officiating in the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League before getting his shot in the American Hockey League. He had his first taste of NHL officiating when he worked six preseason games in September and then officiated the majority of this season and last season in the AHL. While he is just scratching the surface of officiating in the NHL, the 31-year-old has a bright future and will continue to inspire others with diverse backgrounds to chase their dreams, no matter the odds.