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Coyotes Coaching Adds Duo to Diversify

Team initiates annual program to trigger change, growth in hockey's ranks

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes added two coaches -- Nathaniel Brooks and Duante' Abercrombie -- to their development camp staff.

The two are well-credentialed in the hockey world. Now they have a well-earned opportunity.

Brooks and Abercrombie are the first two members of the club's Coaching Internship Program for Diverse Hockey Coaches, which was announced Wednesday and will be implemented annually.

The two will work directly with head coach André Tourigny and his staff, assisting with on-ice practices, off-ice workouts and team meetings and team-building exercises.

Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez collaborated with Kwame Damon Mason to develop the program. Mason is the director and producer of "Soul on Ice: Past, Present, & Future," a documentary chronicling the black experience in hockey.

Gutierrez and Mason both are members of the NHL's Executive Inclusion Committee.

"Kwame Mason approached us and said, 'I think it would be incredible if this organization stepped up and really leveraged its power to give an opportunity to bring diverse talent to the table on the coaching side,' Gutierrez explained. "I then approached Bill Armstrong and (André Tourigny), and they embraced the idea wholeheartedly."

Mason was introduced to the Coyotes staff in February as a guest for the team's internal speaker series celebrating Black History Month.

Mason introduced the Coyotes to Brooks and Abercrombie.

"We have two young men who are excellent coaches," Gutierrez said. "For them, it's an opportunity to sit alongside Bill (Armstrong) and (André Tourigny). It's an opportunity to experience what being in an NHL locker room feels like, training and thinking about how to help athletes perform at the highest level. For us, it's an opportunity again to leverage our platform, to see differences and make progress, and to bring about change that is important for our sport. It also normalizes the idea that you can bring in diverse talent looking for opportunity. For us, that's a very important thing as an organization."

Brooks, 35, is a Richmond Hill, Ontario native, and played youth hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). He played Junior 'A' hockey in the OHL, USHL and OPJHL; collegiately at York University, and then professionally in the Central Hockey League (CHL) and Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). 

He is currently an associate coach with the Ryerson University Men's Hockey Team. He was head of coaching and development for Forest Hill (Ont.) Hockey Association from 2014-19. 

"I'm most excited for the opportunity to get on the ice with the coaches," Brooks said, "to understand their language and verbiage with the players and the way they deal with them. These professional players are starting their journey, especially the young kids here at rookie camp. That's the most exciting part. I can't wait to get on the ice."

Abercrombie, 34, is a Washington, DC, native, and began his youth playing career with the Fort Dupont Cannons under Neal Henderson, a 2019 USA Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. Abercrombie played at Gonzaga College High School and began his coaching career shortly thereafter.

He considers former NHL player and coach Graeme Townsend, the first Jamaican-born player to play in the NHL, as a mentor. Abercrombie currently is an assistant coach at Stevenson University and head coach for the Washington Little Caps U-19 AAA team.

"I've already experienced one of the things that I really wanted to experience," Abercrombie said, during the first day of camp. "And that's just being in the room where decisions are made. How to run a practice; how to tweak little things here and there; the conversations that happen, how you come to conclusions as a coaching staff. Those are all things I really wanted to experience firsthand. I have to thank the Coyotes so much for allowing me to have that opportunity."

 

General Manager Bill Armstrong has been inspired by their presence. 

"You can tell that they're passionate because they've coached from the grassroots levels," Armstrong said. "You do that for the love of the game. You're not making millions of dollars doing that; you're invested in the passion and teaching and making other people better."

Armstrong remembers being provided a similar opportunity when his playing career ended.

"When I was 28, I got a chance to go to the Bruins camp as a guest coach," Armstrong said. "So, when Xavier approached me with this (idea), I remembered that. That was a game-changer for me. I went in as a coach to camp and I had all these great coaches around me -- Pat Burns and Jacques Laperrière. What I learned in two weeks changed my life." 

Tourigny's coaching career began in a similar fashion.

"That's the way I started," Tourigny said. "If I go back into my story, I was a guest coach at a junior camp, just to help out. One year later, they called and offered me a position as a scout. The year after that, I became a coach. 

"I think your experience in life gives you an ability to make a connection with people. I really hope (Nathaniel and Duante') feel at home with us, that they feel comfortable, ask questions, be on the ice and be part of the family. That's the environment we want to have. We want them to be here and to feel like they're part of the family and feel welcome here. We're happy to have them." 

Brooks addressed diversity -- how it's improved and its current state. 

"I think we're on the way to seeing more diversity in hockey," Brooks said. "You have the Coyotes doing this great thing. I look to the youth level. I grew up playing in a time when there were probably five or six of us across the entire GTHL. Now, you walk into a Toronto rink, and you have about four or five diverse kids per team. I'm not just talking about black kids, but I'm talking about kids across all races. I think now, we're starting to see it, it's becoming more normalized, and I like to think for the guys in my generation who came up in the GTHL, we kind of went through the hard times. We pushed through, and now to be leaders and empower those kids is so awesome. I think we're in a great place, and we're only going to go up from here."

Abercrombie expanded on the topic.

"The conversations that have been had over the previous 5-10 years are just amazing," Abercrombie said. "It's not just about color, but about diversity - we're talking about religion acceptance, we're talking about sex acceptance, we're talking about everything. I want every child, every individual who wants to love and enjoy this game, to have the opportunity to do so." 

Both coaches are hopeful - and confident - that their experience in this program will inspire other kids. 

"This isn't something where the Coyotes are just checking off a box," Brooks said. "They're giving us an opportunity to be here, to be in the room with their staff and learn. It's bigger than just Duante' and I. I think that's the biggest part of this. It's great for us, but it's also great for the overall growth of the game, and for the kids."

Said Abercrombie: "I was actually texting with a cousin of mine earlier this morning, and I said, 'This is something that the younger version of Duante' Abercrombie would be very proud of.' There is a young Duante' Abercrombie out there in the world who wants to see this and say, 'This is a sport that loves me back and I'm going to stay with it because I can achieve anything I want.' 

"That's huge for me. Making that impact is massive."

Gutierrez stressed the importance and value of the program.

"Talent knows no color, no ethnicity, no sexual orientation," he said. "What it needs is the opportunity. To bring in these voices of talented people, it only makes you better. The concepts, the ideas, the agreements, the disagreements, the conversations that happen when you bring people from diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives, they make you better, and that's what we're excited about."

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