TSU’s Duante’ Abercrombie Aims to Bring the HBCU Experience to Hockey

Duante’ Abercrombie, a former coach with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, is building a first-of-its-kind hockey program at the HBCU Tennessee State University (Photo Provided).

By Evan F. Moore

The first thing newly hired Tennessee State University hockey coach Duante’ Abercrombie plans to do once he settles in his office is to establish a visual—and lofty—representation of what could be possible for the Tigers faithful: a photo of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship trophy. 

After the announcement that the Nashville-based university is creating a hockey program at an HBCU—the first of its kind—questions were asked.

Why? Who’s going to coach? Who’s going to play on the team? How? Where’s the money for a hockey team at an HBCU? What? Where? Will the school marching band play at home games? Are the Nashville Predators involved? 

Hockey at an HBCU? Why Not. 

To let Abercrombie, hired last month as the first coach in program history, tell it, he’d say: Why not?

After all, as a Black man, a hockey lifer, and an HBCU graduate (Hampton University) who has climbed up the coaching and scouting ranks, he’s uniquely suited for the task ahead of him.

When the announcement was made about college hockey at TSU, he was nearby at a possibly unrelated event: the 2023 NHL Draft, which took place in Nashville. 

“Last year, I was still working with the Maple Leafs…The moment I saw the announcement, I said, ‘This is extremely interesting,'” said Abercrombie. “I’ve heard about the feasibility study and the rumblings behind the scenes, but now to see a public announcement just to see where they wanted to take the program. The school reached out in December [2023].”

I, too, had questions when I heard that Abercrombie, a Washington, D.C. native, was hired. 

What’s going to happen between him accepting TSU’s offer and the puck dropping at center ice for the program’s first game? 

Fundraising, buying equipment, assistance from the university, alumni support, maneuvering through possible NIL deals for players, hiring assistant coaches, and the most important thing, putting together a roster—are all tasks Abercrombie says he’s up for. When TSU officials approached him about taking the job, he had questions just like the rest of us. 

Abercrombie says school officials such as outgoing University president Glenda Glover, Director of Athletics Mikki Allen, Executive Associate Athletic Director of Administration & Capital Projects Dusty Bennett and Hockey Director Nick Guerriero assured him of their intentions of starting a hockey program. 

“I wanted to make sure that [Tennessee State] was serious. I didn’t want this to be a flash in the pan or a publicity stunt,” Abercrombie said. “Every individual that I spoke with has given their vote of confidence, and what it is they’re trying to accomplish with the school all checked out. This was not seen as a splash on the sports scene; an opportunity to work with the Nashville Predators, and a program where the students at TSU receive the Nashville experience and have a hockey team as well.”

Why The Time Is Right

Duanté Abercrombie, back when he played with the Fort Dupont Cannons under coach Neal Henderson

Duante’ Abercrombie, back when he played with the Fort Dupont Cannons under coach Neal Henderson (Photo Provided).

Historically, fringe sports at HBCU colleges and universities, such as baseball, tennis, and sailing, rarely represent the overall demographic of the student body. 

Abercrombie, a former youth hockey and high school coach, says more Black kids are playing hockey more than ever despite a vocal minority within hockey culture that’s historically and culturally resistant to change. He sees a similarity in the reasons HBCUs were initially created by providing opportunities to players who aren’t on the radar of other college hockey programs.

The connection harkens back to his youth hockey days playing with the Fort Dupont Cannons, a development program that introduces inner city kids to the sport, led by legendary coach Neal Henderson, the first Black man to be inducted in the U.S Hockey Hall of Fame.

Duanté Abercrombie as a youth hockey player (Photo Provided).

Duante’ Abercrombie as a youth hockey player (Photo Provided).

“This is just another step in that it shows me that hockey has grown to the level where it has shown that diversity matters and it has shown that it cares about growing the game, and it has permeated to the HBCU landscape,” said Abercrombie. “Because you see more of us in the game, you’d be surprised that there’s well over 100 junior hockey, NCAA-caliber players currently playing the game that are Black…To say that this is going to be an all-Black team, I don’t think it’s fair. Could it happen? Absolutely. Does it need to happen? I don’t think so.

“I think the narrative of someone who is not Black going to a historically Black college university trusting their athletic future with an HBCU and all of the values and culture that are on those campuses; it’s an extremely powerful existence… You’re going to have people that have never experienced a Black person come to a historically Black college university where the campus is just primarily Black. I just think that does so much for the world in general, not just hockey.”

Building An HBCU Hockey Program From The Ice Up

Duanté Abercrombie announced as TSU's Head Ice Hockey Coach

Duante’ Abercrombie announced as TSU’s Head Ice Hockey Coach (Credit: Facebook).

Currently, Abercrombie has yet to relocate to Nashville from the D.C. area. 

However, while he continues to work out logistics, he has also immersed himself in fundraising, a controversial realm within HBCU spaces. While he won’t describe specifics regarding recruiting and where the team will practice and play home games, Abercrombie says alumni and fans will be proud of the product.

“I am actively recruiting. I’ve already gone out and watched some games, but my major focus right now is fundraising,” said Abercrombie. “If you don’t have the funds, you can’t get on the road and go recruiting. If you don’t have funds, you can’t have equipment for the athletes when they come in. You don’t have funds, you can’t join conferences to play [in]. So before we even have the conversation of where to play, we have to have the funds to lock it down once we’ve made our decision.

“There’s a lot happening at the school if you’ve been paying attention. We have a new board of trustees. We also have a president search going on at the moment. So it’s a lot slower than I was expecting. And that’s what I’ve been communicating to everybody to talk about in the market.”

As for the culture Abercrombie aims to curate for the program, there are tried and true elements he’d like to see in recruits (skate hard no matter the score, and such). However, he’d like to guide hockey players who’ve been told to “stick with hockey” and avoid showing individuality that they’ll will see something different within the HBCU experience.

And, yes, he plans to have the “Aristocrat of Bands,” TSU’s Grammy Award-winning marching band, perform at home games.

“This has never been done before. This is historic, and it takes a special person to want to go and be a part of history but also want to go and experience hockey in a way that really has only been done in a few places the way it is going to be done at Tennessee State,” he says. “I’m looking for captains. I’m looking for leaders…I want to see [players] walking in and out of the rink and holding doors for people that are walking in and out that aren’t a part of your team. I want to hear good things from the Zamboni driver. I want to hear good things from the people that work at the hotel where the team stays…All those other boxes are checked because typically those type of people are the type of people that show well to lead to success.”

All plans seem to be well and good. But none of it will matter if Abercrombie doesn’t win games and add to HBCU culture.

 Again, he’s got lofty goals.

“I absolutely see us in NCAA Division I competing for national championships…Everything that I do every single day is working toward that goal…I want the players to see the HBCU experience. I want them to see the Divine Nine. I want our players to feel important because I want them to feel seen and represented by what it is that is being rocked by everybody that supports them. So, I would love leather jackets. I would love classic school sweaters. There’s no swag like HBCU swag, and that’s something that is not lost on myself.”


Evan F. Moore writes about Black Women Wrestlers and the excellence they're showing.

Evan F. Moore is a South Side Chicago-based writer. He’s the co-author of the critically-acclaimed book, “Game Misconduct: Hockey’s Toxic Culture and How to Fix It.” His work over time, which consists of the topics at the intersection of sports, race, entertainment and culture, is featured in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rolling Stone, Chicago Magazine, South Side Weekly, Bleacher Report, Chicago Reader, and ESPN’s Andscape (formerly The Undefeated). His writing, which has garnered several awards, was featured in the 2019 edition of The Best American Sports Writing book series. Evan is an adjunct community journalism professor at DePaul University.

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