The Fort Dupont Cannons will finally get to see themselves on the silver screen in their hometown.
“The Cannons,” a documentary about the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club and its founder, Neal Henderson, makes its long-delayed premiere in Washington, DC, on Sunday for players, coaches, alumni and their families to see.
The documentary by director Steven Hoffner and co-director/producer AJ Messier made its US premiere at the DOC NYC film festival in New York in November.
Concerns surrounding the coronavirus delayed scheduling a screening in the nation’s capital. But the film’s producers, with hosting help from the Washington Capitals, will show “The Cannons” at THEARC Theater in Washington.
“I’m just really excited to get everyone together,” Hoffner said. “The fact is, a lot of members, the alumni, Fort Dupont the community, as much as they participated in the program and our [documentary], it’s hard to get these guys in the same room at the same time. So this is really going to be something really special.”
The premiere will get the Hollywood treatment, complete with red carpet festivities, said Peter Robinson, the Capitals’ director of youth hockey development.
“To have a film like this that goes in-depth in telling Neal’s story and the Cannons story is really important for hockey in general,” Robinson said, “but specifically hockey in our market so that people understand how deep-rooted the sport has been in all of our communities, but specifically in the Black community.
“To be able to have that film be made and tell that story is one thing, but then to be able to share it with everybody in that community, that’s pretty special as well.”
The documentary chronicles the longest-running minority hockey club in North America that Henderson, a former semipro player and US Air Force veteran, established in 1978 in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the United States.
Henderson has used hockey has a prism to instill teamwork, discipline, perseverance, responsibility and accountability in boys and girls, free of charge.
He has been a coach/father figure, a taskmaster who takes time to make sure his players are doing well on and off the ice, and began doing it decades before it became the mission and mantra of the NHL.
Henderson was enshrined in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019 for his work, becoming its first Black inductee.
“It will be very exciting to see the film here, and I hope it will be a refreshing reaction from my players and others,” Henderson said. “It will be a surprise way of seeing some of the kids, the way some of them have to live, some of the things that they have to deal with on a daily basis when some of them don’t have to deal with that, and to, hopefully, have sympathy for those who do.”
More than 1,500 players have donned the Cannons’ black, white and yellow jerseys, and several have gone on to do extraordinary things on and off the ice.
Alumnus and assistant Ralph Featherstone, who joined the Cannons in the 1990s, went on to attend the US Naval Academy, becoming captain of its club hockey team in his senior year. He became a lieutenant colonel in the US Marines, was stationed in San Diego and now serves on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
Marquise Cotten’s experience playing for the Cannons also led to coaching, first as an assistant at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC, and for Mason City of the North American 3 Hockey League this season.
Duante Abercrombie, a former Cannons player, is an assistant at Stevenson University, an NCAA Division III hockey program outside of Baltimore, and director of player achievement for the Washington Little Caps.
Abercrombie and Nathaniel Brooks, an assistant for Ryerson University’s men’s hockey team in Toronto, are featured in “NHL Bound,” a four-part series about their participation in an internship program at an Arizona Coyotes development camp in 2021.
Abercrombie said he can’t wait to see the Cannons story in the theater Sunday.
“My mom will be there, my grandparents will be there, my brother will be there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how excited all of the Cannons alumni and coaches and families are that they actually get to experience it in DC, and actually in a pretty neat theater, I’ve been told.”
“The Cannons” has traveled across the United States since its New York debut. It was screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival, the North Carolina Black Film Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina, and at the Thin Line Festival in Denton, Texas. It was shown Friday at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, one of the largest Black film festivals in the United States.
The documentary will make its Canadian premiere at the NorthwestFest International Documentary Film Festival in Edmonton on May 8.
The goal of the film festival showings is to attract a distributor so “The Cannons” can be seen by a larger audience.
The Washington premiere comes with the Cannons’ home rink facing an uncertain future.
The Fort Dupont Ice Arena was supposed to close at the end of February for demolition to make way for a one-sheet replacement facility the District government estimated would cost more than $31 million in its fiscal 2022 budget plan. Completion of the new facility was scheduled for fall 2023.
But the process has stalled after members of the rink’s nonprofit board objected to the demolition plan and voiced concerns about the size and cost of the project.
The Fort Dupont Ice Arena is the only indoor rink in Washington, DC Hoffner said he hopes the “The Cannons” screening helps get the project back on track.
“I hope that it builds an understanding of how important that rink is to that community,” he said. “I hope it builds an understanding of how important Coach Neal is, the program is, to that community. It’s more than just a rink. It’s a place of salvation for a lot of these kids.”
Photos: Steven Hoffner
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism