All roads lead west in David’s climb up coaching ladder
A chance meeting at a USA Hockey camp in Colorado Springs three years ago and a few informal dinners later planted seeds for the biggest coaching move yet in Californian Oliver David’s ascending career.
It was there that David, who had just taken a job as an assistant coach with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League (USHL) met Mike Johnston, the successful coach of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and longtime NHL assistant.
David served as Dubuque’s associate head coach and assistant general manager during the next three years, when the Fighting Saints went 108-61-2-9 and reached the 2016 USHL Clark Cup Final.
Johnston guided the Winterhawks to the WHL finals in 2014 before becoming the Pittsburgh Penguins’ head coach for one and a half seasons. He was rehired as Portland’s coach this past spring.
Johnston, in turn, hired David in June.
“I left those informal meetings in Colorado Springs saying to myself if the opportunity arose and I can take care of my family I would probably take any position to be around him and learn and listen,” David said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to have that come to fruition.”
The pairing makes complete sense to Larry Bruyere, who knows both men well from his role as USA Hockey’s Pacific District coach-in-chief. Bruyere also played an integral role in David staying in hockey as a young player in Burbank.
“(Mike) and Oliver have a lot in common,” Bruyere said. “Mike is well thought of as an educator. To have Oliver working under him is a real feather in his cap.”
There are those who rise up through the hockey ranks by going off the beaten path. David had to figure out his path, then clear it before he began traveling on it.
It began at Water City Roller Hockey, a humble rink at Ford Ord in Monterey after he returned from playing professional hockey in Europe due to an injury.
“I was trying out for a roller team and afterward, rink operator Mark Tanous came over to me and said, ‘We’re going to turn the keys over to you. Do whatever you want’,” David said. “I was given an opportunity to learn the craft of coaching with no eyes on me. I started reading and studying and learning through trial and error. There was no judgment. I had full autonomy to create myself as a coach.”
To this day, David carries a photo of one of his first roller hockey teams to remind him of his start.
After more than five years in Monterey, David landed in Anaheim, coaching some of the top inline teams in the region. In 2005, he got a job as an assistant to Mike Lewis with the California Wave’s 18U AAA team, which went on to win a USA Hockey national championship the following April. Curt Castagna was president of the Wave at the time, and David coached his son, Justin, in roller hockey as well as with the Wave.
“Curt gave me room to grow; I was allowed to teach and conceptualize,” David said. “That was huge for my development.”
From there, it was four years coaching with Igor Nikulin at LA Hockey Club before landing his first head coaching job with Kenai River in the North American Hockey League. The Brown Bears went 87-74-17, and David gained a reputation as an astute coach who could relate well to players and help them advance.
“It’s a work in progress,” said David. “I’m doing what I love and what I’m meant to do – give back to those trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport. I have a real pride in working with young players. I make sure as much as possible I’m giving my all, just as I’d ask of my players.”
David is a frequent speaker at USA Hockey Pacific District coaching symposiums that Bruyere conducts.
“He’s well received, and a lot of that is because of how he carries himself,” Bruyere said. “He’s humble, but when he’s called on, he can back up his points with statistics and trends.
“He’s a self-made student of the game, which gets a lot of respect from other coaches regardless of their pedigrees. They line up to talk to him afterward.”
One of David’s favorite sayings is: “Be true to yourself and be proud of where you come from.”
A passionate advocate for all things California hockey, it would be tough to find someone who has taken his own advice so thoroughly.
— Chris Bayee