DC native Daunte’ Abercrombie began coaching in 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 large on not permitting the streets to take her kids,” Duante’ Abercrombie, now 35, recalled. “Plenty of mates in my life are locked up or lifeless.”

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

As a end result, it wasn’t the streets that took her oldest boy final week. It was the National Hockey League.

“Right now, I’m dreaming with my eyes open,” mentioned the Toronto Maple Leafs new coaching improvement affiliate, who joined a handful of Black coaches in the NHL. He fulfilled the #NHLBOUND hashtag he connected to all his communications, the line he put in all caps 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 after I known as him.

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

A hockey coach spent a long time saving lives. Let’s save his ice.

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

Henderson was the first Black man elected to the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019 for his function in founding and working the Fort Dupont Cannons. It’s the nation’s longest-running, minority-oriented hockey workforce and has proven hundreds of DC youngsters that sure, they are often something — even what they cannot see.

Abercrombie is now there for all of them to see — the Black boy who could not skate when he bought to the rink; now coaching 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 different gamers round them,” he mentioned, remembering how exhausting it was for him to consider his expertise and drive was sufficient as he shared a locker rooms filled with White gamers who had been on journey groups, who skilled with particular coaches and did summer time clinics. All he had was the free program in the metropolis.

“Look at me,” he mentioned. “This is feasible. I need youngsters to ask me, ‘what was it like after I was 10? When I used to be 15?’ “

Abercrombie’s mother took him to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena’s free study to skate program when he was 6. Skating is messy your first few occasions, the wobbles, these insane knives you are supposed to face on, the moist garments in any case the falls. It wasn’t love at first wipeout for Duante’.

But proper after his lesson, the younger boy watched the hockey workforce take the ice.

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

His mother, in fact, marched straight as much as the entrance desk and requested them if there was any method her little boy may study 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 girls getting their hair performed. She labored exhausting to afford all the particular applications and personal colleges that she despatched Duante’ and his little brother, Devan, to.

Henderson remembers that Abercrombie was athletically proficient, 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 this the solution to make myself skate sooner?’ ‘Is this the solution to maintain my stick higher?’ “

His time with the Cannons propelled Abercrombie to Gonzaga College High School, 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 different colleges. And that appealed to him, realizing he will be a part of “what it will turn out to be.”

He helped lead the hockey workforce to 4 Maryland Student 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. Most of the time, he was the solely Black participant in the locker room, in the enviornment. He may outscore and outskate others, however he needed to preserve convincing them that he was severe.

When he turned a father, he knew it was time to start out his life as a coach. And he coached domestically, the Little Caps, Georgetown Prep, particular person classes and clinics.

He turned one in every of 4 Black coaches in NCAA hockey when he was employed as an NCAA assistant coach at Stevenson University in Pikesville, Md.

But he nonetheless had that aim, #NHLBOUND. So when a coaching job opened in Toronto in May, he bought 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 move to Canada. It’s the place Henderson discovered to play hockey whereas his father was stationed there as a Merchant Marine throughout World War II.

It’s the place Graeme Townshend, the first Jamaican-born hockey participant to compete in the NHL, who as soon as coached for the Leafs, took Abercrombie to the 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 along with his father, who since bought out of jail.

“He confirmed me that he grew up in the initiatives and ended up coaching at the Leafs,” Duante’ mentioned. “He confirmed me it may be performed.”

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

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

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