Duante’ Abercrombie has been playing hockey since he was six years old. He played youth, high school and college hockey as well as professionally in New Zealand and in the Federal Hockey League. He has his mother to thank for it.
“She got pregnant with me when she was 19,” explained Abercrombie of his mother, who became a statistic because “she was a teenage mom who had a Black son in Washington, D.C. whose dad was not around but was locked up. That was hard for her.
“But she also didn’t want to be or didn’t want me to have to end up being a statistic,” he continued. When Abercombie became school age, she got him into as many sports and other activities as possible.
Ice skating was one of them “when I was five years old,” remembered Abercrombie. “It was a Saturday morning, and I saw a hockey game right after my session, and the rest was history.”
Hockey’s historically all-White existence didn’t scare him off—rather he embraced the sport. He played with Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, North America’s oldest program for Blacks and other youth of color.
“I was on an all-Black team until I was in high school,” said Abercrombie proudly. “Everything I saw on Wednesday nights was Black hockey players, Black hockey parents, Black hockey coaches. It was amazing.”
Today Abercombie is a trailblazer, one of a handful of Black assistant college hockey coaches, in his third season at Stevenson (MD) University. Last September he participated in the newly-formed Arizona Coyotes’ coaching internship program for young diverse hockey coaches and took part in the NHL team’s development camp.
“I just wanted to understand and get a feel of the pace at that level,” said Abercombie. “That was my goal to go in and understand how they plan a practice on a day-to-day basis [and] how they communicate with players. Even better, how they communicate with each other day to day. That was one of the greatest moments of my coaching life to this point.
“We’re not far off Division I,” said Abercombie on coaching the Mustangs. Stevenson is a Division III school founded in 1947, located in Owings Mills outside of Baltimore. He says he’s learning every day to be the best coach he can be.
“I think I have what it takes, especially with the way you communicate with players,” said the assistant coach. “You’ll learn the X’s and O’s, but that’s the easy part. But just being a good person and how to communicate, that’s usually the hardest part.
“I think I’m a very, very good person that’s really knowing and relating to the athletes,” surmised Abercombie. He said he doesn’t see himself as a trailblazer but one day sees his name on the Stanley Cup. “I don’t know in what capacity—a development coach, as a skills coach, an assistant coach, a head coach, a GM,” he predicted.
And Abercombie has his mother to thank.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.