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Nathaniel Brooks Excited to Begin NHL Journey with Coyotes

Last September, Nathaniel Brooks hoped he was accelerating his path to the NHL by participating in the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching internship program.

Less than a year later, he’s officially part of the pack.

Brooks was named the Coyotes’ new skill development coach, joining the club following 15 years of development work at all levels of hockey. A former player himself with experience in the GTHL, OJHL, OHL, and USHL, he was most recently an associate coach with the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team, and was the recipient of the Herb Ebisuzaki Coaching Award in 2019.

Upon completion of Arizona’s internship prior to the 2021-22 season, Brooks returned to Ryerson, where he helped lead the Rams to a 15-7-0 record and win their first-ever game in the University Cup Championship. A few days after their historic season ended, Brooks got a call from Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong, and the rest is history.

“Things happened fast after our season was over,” Brooks said. “I’m beyond excited to be here. When I left here last year, I was really excited, I felt really good, and hoped I had an opportunity to come back, even in a guest capacity.

“To be here full time is truly a blessing.”

The Coyotes couldn’t be happier with their newest hire.

“Coming all the way through from where he played at the different levels to coaching at a high level, we loved his resume,” Armstrong said. “The program allowed us to get to know him, and I think that’s the biggest thing. If you’re around him at all, you can see in his eyes, his passion. Tremendous amount of passion, character, and heart, so we like that about him, and he’s going to fit into our group really nice.”

Brooks participated in last year’s internship alongside Duante’ Abercrombie, who is currently an assistant coach with Stevenson University. It was the first program of its kind when the Coyotes launched it last season, and they continued it this year by hosting Kelsey Koelzer and Kori Cheverie during rookie development camp.

Coyotes Team President and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said there are more teams hosting similar programs this season, and he hopes to see that trend continue.

“It’s very important for us to really leverage our platform to really make an impact,” Gutierrez said. “Talent knows no race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion. Talent needs an opportunity, and that’s really the vision behind the program.”

Now a full-time member of the Coyotes organization, Brooks said the experience at rookie development camp this season was very different than last year. Last season he said he was more of a fly on the wall, providing guidance and input where he requested, and this year he was much more engaged.

One of the biggest things he learned as an intern is that the prospects at the NHL level are so close to realizing their dreams, they will work even harder to make it a reality. Those lessons prepared him for this year’s rookie development camp, where he knew exactly what he was walking in to.

“I’ve worked with lots of players from the youth level to the pro level, but to actually be in it with players that are knocking on the door is definitely a different feeling,” Brooks said. “These kids want it.”

Armstrong, Gutierrez, and Coyotes head coach André Tourigny were so impressed with what Brooks and Abercrombie brought to the table last season, the decision to hire Brooks full time was virtually a no-brainer.

The club had hoped it would eventually lead to a permanent position, and when the right opportunity came up within Tourigny’s staff, there was no hesitation.

“We didn’t start this as a recruiting platform, per se, just because we know that we’re building something that is very strategic, and we don’t have a lot of openings,” Gutierrez said. “To see that happen really is the full circle of the vision of this program.”

Brooks and Abercrombie were featured in the docuseries “NHL Bound,” produced by Kwame Mason, who also works as a consultant to the NHL to help elevate black hockey history. The series just won the Hashtag Sports Award for Excellence in Black Storytelling.

Mason said the recognition was truly meaningful considering his mission to help elevate diversity and inclusion within the NHL, and he’s happy to have even had a small hand in helping Brooks get to the next level. During an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada last season, he was almost prophetic when he said he truly believed the program would lead to job opportunities for the participants.

Not even a year later, his words ring true.

“It says so much for the culture and where we’re trying to go with hockey,” Mason said. “One of my motivations is to be able to help people wherever I can. I knew specifically that he was ready to be in this circle, so I’m just happy to see him shining through.”

Armstrong and his staff saw the talent immediately, but he also hopes bringing Brooks into the organization following the program will also help foster those skills from within.

“He’s earned this spot, and that’s the most important thing. He’s worked his way up,” Armstrong said. “I know he’s going to fight, and he’s going to put his love and passion from him into our organization.”

The knowledge, skill, and work ethic Brooks has demonstrated over his years of experience have always stood out, and the payoff for him was realizing his dream to work for an NHL organization. Now that he’s taken the next step in his career journey-hardly where it’s going to end-he said he hopes his story of him can inspire others to continue to pursue their passion.

“I think that what Duante’ and I did opened up a lot of eyes, and hopefully the young kids coming up feel like they can do whatever they want in the game — whether it’s play, coach, or whatever it is,” Brooks said. “I always want to be an inspiration.”

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