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The Washington Post

D.C. native Daunte’ Abercrombie started teaching within the NHL this week


Devara Abercrombie wasn’t a typical, type-A Washington father or mother, striving to sculpt an Ivy-league résumé for her two boys. She was a teen mother whose first precedence as a father or mother was to maintain her sons protected, to maintain them from their father’s destiny.

“She was massive on not permitting the streets to take her youngsters,” Duante’ Abercrombie, now 35, recalled. “Loads of buddies in my life are locked up or useless.”

So Abercrombie discovered himself in gymnastics, swimming, violin, ice skating — “actions that weren’t the norm for a Black boy,” he mentioned.

In consequence, it wasn’t the streets that took her oldest boy final week. It was the Nationwide Hockey League.

“Proper now, I’m dreaming with my eyes open,” mentioned the Toronto Maple Leafs new teaching improvement affiliate, who joined a handful of Black coaches within the NHL. He fulfilled the #NHLBOUND hashtag he connected to all his communications, the road he put in allcaps on his résumé: “MY GOAL IS TO COACH IN THE NHL”

Coach Neal Henderson cried when Abercrombie known as to inform him. He cried once more once I known as him.

“It’s a dream and a pleasure,” mentioned Henderson, who’s now 85 and preparing for his forty fifth season operating the hockey program that obtained Abercrombie began, and, he mentioned, saved his life — the Fort Dupont Cannons.

A hockey coach spent decades saving lives. Let’s save his ice.

“I advised Duante’ he would go far once I met him,” Henderson mentioned. “He was 6 years previous. I used to hold him round in my arms across the ice to show him find out how to skate and find out how to stand.”

Henderson was the primary Black man elected to the U.S. Hockey Corridor of Fame in 2019 for his position in founding and operating the Fort Dupont Cannons. It’s the nation’s longest-running, minority-oriented hockey crew and has proven hundreds of D.C. children that sure, they are often something — even what they will’t see.

Abercrombie is now there for all of them to see — the Black boy who couldn’t skate when he obtained to the rink; now teaching professionals in North America’s hockeyland.

“I wish to be there for them to know they belong, they need to have as many alternatives as the opposite gamers round them,” he mentioned, remembering how laborious it was for him to consider his expertise and drive was sufficient as he shared locker rooms stuffed with White gamers who had been on journey groups, who educated with particular coaches and did summer time clinics. All he had was the free program within the metropolis.

“Have a look at me,” he mentioned. “That is attainable. I would like children to ask me, ‘what was it like once I was 10? Once I was 15?’ ”

Abercrombie’s mother took him to the Fort Dupont Ice Area’s free be taught to skate program when he was 6. Skating is messy your first few occasions, the wobbles, these insane knives you’re supposed to face on, the moist garments after all of the falls. It wasn’t love at first wipeout for Duante’.

However proper after his lesson, the younger boy watched the hockey crew take the ice.

“They have been shifting so quick, the puck was flying,” he remembered. “What is that this magical factor that’s taking place on the ice?”

His mother, in fact, marched straight as much as the entrance desk and requested them if there was any means her little boy may be taught this insane sport. And the entrance desk launched her to Henderson.

“If it wasn’t for Coach Neal, for Fort Dupont these Monday and Wednesday nights, when he was my dad, who is aware of what would’ve occurred to me?” mentioned Abercrombie, who didn’t know his father rising up.

He remembers waking up Saturday mornings — his mother had a cosmetology license — to a home full of ladies getting their hair accomplished. She labored laborious to afford all of the particular applications and personal faculties that she despatched Duante’ and his little brother, Devan, to.

Henderson remembers that Abercrombie was athletically gifted, however extra importantly, “he was a extremely coachable child.

“He was all the time asking for extra,” Henderson mentioned. “Asking me for extra methods to do one thing higher: ‘Is that this the best way to make myself skate sooner?’ ‘Is that this the best way to carry my stick higher?’ ”

His time with the Cannons propelled Abercrombie to Gonzaga School Excessive Faculty, the all-boys Jesuit faculty with a fierce hockey program. When he toured it, a lot of the campus was beneath renovation, scaffolding and boards, nothing as full as the opposite faculties. And that appealed to him, realizing he will be a part of “what it’s going to turn out to be.”

He helped lead the hockey crew to 4 Maryland Scholar Hockey League/Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League championships. Then he performed three seasons professionally in New Zealand, in addition to in New York and Pittsburgh. More often than not, he was the one Black participant within the locker room, within the enviornment. He may outscore and outskate others, however he needed to maintain convincing them he was severe.

When he grew to become a dad, he knew it was a very good time to begin his life as a coach. And he coached domestically, the Little Caps, Georgetown Prep, particular person classes and clinics.

He grew to become one in every of 4 black coaches in NCAA hockey when he was employed as an NCAA assistant coach at Stevenson College in Pikesville, Md.

However he nonetheless had that aim, #NHLBOUND. So when a training job opened in Toronto in Could, he obtained the résumé prepared and spent the entire summer time sweating, even in these chilly ice rinks, ready to listen to again.

He moved to Toronto final week.

It felt proper to go to Canada. It’s the place Henderson realized to play hockey whereas his father was stationed there as a Service provider Marine throughout World Warfare II.

It’s the place Graeme Townshend, the primary Jamaican-born hockey participant to compete within the NHL, who as soon as coached for the Leafs, took Abercrombie to the general public housing complicated the place he was raised, after his household moved to Canada. It was Townshend — who took pleasure in speaking a couple of robust upbringing — who satisfied Abercrombie to get again in contact together with his dad, who since obtained out of jail.

“He confirmed me that he grew up within the tasks and ended up teaching on the Leafs,” Duante’ mentioned. “He confirmed me it may be accomplished.”

Now that’s he’s achieved the hashtag, what’s subsequent?

“I wish to be a head coach on that bench,” he mentioned. “And I would like my title on that Stanley Cup 4 occasions. The dream retains altering. It has to.”

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