Oliver David has tried to patiently develop his players and teams.
That makes David appreciative of the patience he has been shown while simultaneously developing his own coaching career.
“I was given an opportunity to continue an apprenticeship,” said David, the United States Hockey League’s 2020 Coach of the Year for his work this season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. “It wasn’t really a mentor I was working directly under, but I was given the time and space to work through who I was and how I wanted to coach.
“All along the way, especially in the North American Hockey League, I had players who were on board and, luckily, we were able to develop players as I was developing.”
The NAHL, with the Kenai River Brown Bears, was the third of David’s four steps in his coaching career to date, each extending about four years.
After starting out coaching youth roller hockey in northern California, David moved to youth ice hockey in his native southern California, then Tier II junior hockey in the NAHL before arriving in the USHL, USA Hockey’s only Tier I junior league. He even served as an assistant coach on the USA Inline Men’s Team that won a silver medal at the world championships in 2009.
More recently, he has served as an evaluator for the Pacific District for USA Hockey’s National Select Festivals.
By the time David arrived in Dubuque, where his team allowed the fewest goals in the USHL while ranking second in the overall standings this season, he had a distinct idea of how he wanted his teams to play.
“We’re trying to build our club up to a point where it’s easily recognizable, even if we were wearing yellow jerseys, that that’s a Dubuque Fighting Saints-type team,” said David, who also pointed out that he benefited from a quick bond with first-year assistants Evan Dixon and Justin Hale. “That’s something that we’re proud of. We want to have a certain style and be known for certain things. That development model of myself as a coach and the development model of my players has stuck with me.”
The style the Fighting Saints developed is one of a team that plays well away from the puck and plays responsibly defensively, from role players through its most dynamic offensive threats.
“Our top point-getters believed in the necessity of being individually of high quality without the puck,” David said. “… We had guys who really believed in the importance of playing a complete game.”
An early-season strategic move by David paid off on the offensive end.
Riese Gaber and the Jackson twins, Ty and Dylan, had all collected at least 40 points while playing together in the 2018-19 season. David moved Gaber, a right-handed shot, off of the left wing, to lead a different line while keeping the Jacksons together. All three kept producing, finishing in the top nine in the league in scoring.
Gaber led the USHL in goals with 34 and landed USHL Player of the Year honors. Ty Jackson shared the league lead in assists with 41 and led the team with 58 points, tied for third best in the league. Dylan Jackson matched Gaber’s 55 points, tying him for eighth in the league.
With USHL Goalie of the Year Erik Portillo in net, that was plenty of production to have the Fighting Saints on the brink of clinching a high playoff seed at the time the league had to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Portillo, who is 6-foot-6, made the most of his size while leading the league in GAA (2.11) and ranking third in save percentage (.915).
“He’s very poised and positionally sound,” David said. “He doesn’t get rattled. He’s very confident in holding his stance and his position if he isn’t standing in the crease.
“His ability to track a puck is outstanding. Sometimes big goalies have a tendency to make themselves look small to get in a specific stance. He was able to keep himself big.”
David was just part of the award-winning management team in Dubuque.
Kalle Larsson from the Fighting Saints was named USHL General Manager of the Year.
“The USHL includes so many great hockey minds and individuals I personally learned so much from,” Larsson said in a league press release. “The fact that those people are the ones voting on this award is very humbling.”
The Chicago Steel, the only team ahead of the Fighting Saints in the standings, grabbed the other two major player awards.
Brendan Brisson was named Rookie of the Year while Owen Power was selected as the Defenseman of the Year.
Brisson, a 19-year-old University of Michigan commit from Manhattan Beach, California, finished as the league’s second-leading scorer with 24 goals and 35 assists.
Power, who is also headed to Michigan, had 12 goals and 28 assists, best among USHL defensemen.
To view a complete list of All-USHL First, Second and Third teams click here.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo from USHL