So Abercrombie found himself in gymnastics, swimming, violin, and figure skating — “activities that weren’t the norm for a black boy,” he said.
As a result, it wasn’t the streets that took her oldest son last week. It was the National Hockey League.
“Right now, I’m dreaming with my eyes open,” said the new training development assistant at the Toronto Maple Leafs, who has joined a group of black NHL coaches. The hashtag #NHLBOUND that he attached to all his communications met the line he put in all the lines on his bio: “My goal is to train in the NHL”
Coach Neil Henderson cried when Abercrombie called to tell him. He cried again when I called him.
“It’s a dream and a happiness,” said Henderson, who is now 85 and preparing for his 45th season running the hockey program that started Abercrombie. Save His Life – Fort Dupont Canons.
“I told Duante he was going away when I met him,” Henderson said. “He was 6 years old. I used to carry him around the ice to teach him how to skate and how to stand.”
Henderson was the first black man to be elected to the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019 for his role in founding and managing the Fort Dupont Cannons. It’s the nation’s longest-running, minority-oriented hockey team and has shown thousands of the capital’s kids that yes, they can be anything – even what they can’t see.
Abercrombie is now there for all to see – the black boy who couldn’t skate when he got to the rink; Now he coaches professional North American hockey.
“I want to be there for them to know that they belong, they deserve to have as many opportunities as the other players around them,” he said, remembering how hard it was to believe his talent and leadership was enough that he shared closet rooms full of white players who were on the traveling teams, who trained With private trainers and they did summer clinics. All he has is the free software in town.
He said, “Look at me.” “It’s possible. I want the kids to ask me, ‘How did I feel when I was 10?'” When I was 15?’ “
Abercrombie’s mom took him to a free skateboarding program at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena when he was six. Love wasn’t initially an erasure for Duante.
But right after the lesson, the boy watched the hockey team take the ice.
“They were moving really fast, and the disc was flying,” he recalls. “What is this magical thing going on on the ice?”
His mother, of course, walked straight to the front desk and asked if there was any way her little boy could learn this crazy sport. The front desk introduced her to Henderson.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Neil, and Fort Dupont nights Mondays and Wednesdays, when I was my dad, who knows what would have happened to me?” said Abercrombie, who did not know his father growing up.
He remembers getting up on a Saturday morning — his mother has a beauty license — to a house full of women getting their hair done. She worked hard to withstand all the private programs and private schools that she sent Duante and his little brother Devan to.
Henderson recalls that Abercrombie was athletically gifted, but more importantly, “He was a very hard-nosed kid.
“He was always asking for more,” Henderson said. “He asks me more ways to do something better: ‘Is this the way to make me skate faster?'” “Is this the best way to hold the wand?”
His time with Cannons Abercrombie propelled him to Gonzaga College High School, the all-boys Jesuit school with a fierce hockey program. When he toured the campus, much of the campus was under renovation, scaffolding and planks, and nothing was as complete as the other schools. And that impressed him, realizing that it could be part of “what it becomes of it.”
Help lead the hockey team to four Maryland Junior Hockey League/Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League championships. He then played three seasons professionally in New Zealand as well as in New York and Pittsburgh. Most of the time, he was the only black player in the locker room, in the arena. He could outsmart and outsmart others, but he had to continue to convince them that he was serious.
When he became a father, he knew it was time to start his life as a coach. He has trained locally, Little Cabs, Georgetown Prep, one-on-one sessions and clinics.
He became one of four black NCAA hockey coaches when he was hired as an NCAA assistant coach at Stephenson University in Pikesville, Maryland.
But he still has that goal, #NHLBOUND. So when a coaching job opened in Toronto in May, he prepared his resume and spent the whole summer sweating, even on cold ice rinks, waiting for a response.
Moved to Toronto last week.
Felt right to head to Canada. It’s where Henderson learned to play hockey while his father was stationed there as a Merchant Marine during World War II.
It’s where Graeme Townshend, the first Jamaican-born hockey player to compete in the NHL and who once coached with the Leafs, took Abercrombie to the public housing complex where he grew up, after his family moved to Canada. It was Townsend—who takes pride in talking about a difficult upbringing—who convinced Abercrombie to return to contact his father, who has since been out of prison.
“He showed me that he grew up in projects and ended up coaching at The Leafs,” said Duante. “He showed me that it can be done.”
Now that the hashtag has achieved, what next?
“I want to be a head coach on this bench,” he said. “And I want my name in the Stanley Cup four times. The dream is constantly changing. It’s supposed to.”