Color of Hockey: Diversity in guest coaches at Ducks development camp

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles Sam Uisprapassorn and former NHL player Emerson Etem, who were Anaheim Ducks guest coaches and part of an effort to increase diversity in professional hockey’s coaching ranks.

Sam Uisprapassorn still had that kid in the candy store feeling midweek into the Anaheim Ducks development camp last week.

Uisprapassorn, a coach for Colombia’s national hockey team, still couldn’t believe he was working alongside Ducks coach Dallas Eakins and his staff and sharing the ice with potential NHL players as a guest coach at the camp.

“I mean, wow, it’s been a truly amazing experience,” said Uisprapassorn, who also coaches nearby Chapman University’s American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II men’s team. “I put this up there with getting married, having children, and then I went to development camp with the Ducks.”

He joined former Anaheim forward Emerson Etem as Ducks guest coaches for their development camp and for the 2022-23 season as part of an NHL Coaches’ Association mentorship effort to help increase diversity in professional hockey’s coaching ranks.

“Our sport has always been predominantly white, it’s been predominantly male,” said Eakins, an NHLCA member. “I think it’s important for all of us to recognize that and to really do our best to open up our doors to people of color, women. I think our sport and our league has taken a giant step in inclusion.”

The Ducks are among four NHL teams that have announced guest coaches selected from the NHLCA’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and Female Coaches Development programs.

The Arizona Coyotes selected Kelsey Koelzer, who became the NCAA’s first Black female head coach when Division III Arcadia University near Philadelphia hired her in September 2019, and Kori Cheverie, an assistant with Canada’s national women’s hockey team and the first woman to coach one of Canada’s men’s national teams as an assistant at the 2022 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in April, as their 2022-23 guest coaches.

Leon Hayward, an assistant at NCAA Division I University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Lindsay Berman, an assistant for Northeastern University’s women’s team, began working with the New Jersey Devils coaching staff at their development camp last week.

So did Laura Schuler, an assistant at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She was a guest coach at the Washington Capitals development camp and will work with the team and its American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, periodically during the 2022-23 season.

The guest coaching mentorships are like the one the Coyotes unveiled in September 2021, with two Black coaches, Duante Abercrombie, an assistant at NCAA Division III Stevenson University and director of player achievement for the Washington Little Caps and Nathaniel Brooks, who was a Ryerson University men’s hockey assistant.

Their experience was featured in “NHL Bound,” a four-part series produced in association with NHL Original Productions and directed by Kwame Damon Mason, who produced the 2015 award-winning documentary “Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future.”

“We lean on the teams now that we can return to in-person events to look within our program to find candidates who are at the professional level who would benefit from being on the ice with NHL coaches, with NHL players and working with them, NHLCA President Lindsay Artkin said.

“Having the teams lead these in-person job-shadowing opportunities is really the next iteration of the BIPOC coaches’ program. It’s just one more step along the path to getting more coaches of diversity in the NHL.”

The effort appears to be paying off. The Coyotes hired Brooks as their skill development coach on Thursday.

“Nathaniel is a quality person and a very good coach,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said. “He has earned this opportunity and we are very excited to have him join our staff.”

Uisprapassorn and Etem hope their time shadowing Ducks coaches will help prepare them for NHL opportunities someday.

Uisprapassorn has coached at Chapman since 2009 and Colombia’s national team since 2014. He helped guide Colombia to Amerigol LATAM Cup championships played at the Florida Panthers practice facility in 2018 and 2021.

He was also behind the bench when Colombia won the IIHF Development Cup in Fussen, Germany, in May. The tournament is for International Ice Hockey Federation members that don’t meet some of the organization’s requirements to compete in world championships, like having a regulation-size rink in-country.

Uisprapassorn said he can’t wait to teach his Colombian and Chapman players what he learned at the development camp.

“I learned more in six hours just in being in the coaches’ room,” Uisprapassorn said. “We spent a good three and a half, four hours just planning 75-minute ice sessions [Wednesday]. Everything is done with a purpose. The coaching staff in Anaheim is stressing attention to detail, they’re stressing, ‘Let’s execute correctly, let’s just not do it fast.’ I would love to see some sort of path to working within the league or within hockey in general. I feel like I’m getting the skillsets I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else should this opportunity not come up.”

For Etem, guest coaching with Anaheim is a homecoming. The 30-year-old Long Beach, California, native was selected by the Ducks with the No. 29 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.

He had 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 173 NHL games with the Ducks, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks before he retired in January 2019, unable to overcome a September 2013 knee injury that robbed him of his breakaway speed that was key to his game.

Etem became a coach and general manager for Missoula (Montana), a Tier III junior team in the NA3HL in 2020. He bought a United States Premier Hockey League franchise last year and moved it to Long Beach, where he coaches the team.

He said he enjoyed shadowing Anaheim coaches at the development camp and looks forward to being on the ice at their training camp in September with Cam Fowler spirit John Gibsonwho were his teammates.

“It’s nice to have that familiarity,” Etem said. “One thing that I’ll take away is just through each category across the board is make sure I’m picking up something that’s going to better me, whether that’s from a management standpoint or coaching, that I can take back to the Long Beach Shredders.”

Photos courtesy of Anaheim Ducks


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