September 07, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Dave King

Dave King was the long time coach/manager of the Canadian national team and Olympic program. In that time he earned a reputation as the hardest working coach in all of hockey. He was a clinical tactician who did not always have the best players but always got every ounce of effort from them.

"All I can say is that I don't think there's a better coach on either side of the ocean," said Team Canada captain Brad Schlegel back in the early 1990s. "Dave is always trying to be better. He's very intense, very demanding. And there were times when he pushed me to the limit, but that's what I needed. He got the most out of this team. Nobody else could have gotten more."

King had his fair share of critics, as do all coaches. His biggest flaw was his supposed inability to coach offensively.

"He'd rather win games 0-0," once said Dino Ciccarelli at a World Championships.

Dave King was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan but grew up mostly in Saskatoon. He was pretty good hockey player in his day, starring with the University of Saskatchewan from 1968 to 1971 where he earned degrees in science and education.

King had a tryout with the Portland Buckaroos of the old professional Western Hockey League. They offered to sign him to a measly minor league contract and cast him out to God-Knows-Where in the southern United States. King decided that was not for him.

He returned to Saskatoon where he played some senior hockey while working as a high school teacher for much of the 1970s. 

But he also discovered coaching. By the end of the decade he had risen from the junior ranks to head coach of his alma mater at the University of Saskatchewan. 

Under his guidance, the Huskies won the Canada West Championship three times - 1981, 1982 and 1983. The Huskies finished second at the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union championship in both 1981 and 1982 and in 1983 won the CIAU title in Moncton.
At the same time, King was becoming a household name in Canada. He also coached the Canadian national junior team to a world championship in 1982 and a bronze in 1983.
Dave went on to become coach/manager/head recruiter/travel agent/media relations guy of Canada's national hockey team for many seasons including three Olympics - 1984 (Sarajevo - fourth), 1988 (Calgary - fourth) and 1992 (Albertville - silver). He also coached the Canadian national team at five International Hockey Federation world championships. In 1987, he coached Canada to the gold medal in the Izvestia Cup tournament in Moscow, becoming the first Canadian team to defeat the Russian national team in Russia since the 1972 Summit Series.

 "My family moved to Winnipeg in my early teens and I'd watch Father David Bauer's Olympic and national teams. People used to look down on the amateurs, but we've since learned that losing 2-1 or 3-2 to the Russians meant he must have been doing a hell of a job." 

"You know, our frequent lack of success against the Soviets isn't all bad. One of the great advantages is that it makes people think," said King, the game's ultimate thinker.

"Coaching against Europeans, you learn so much. I've always felt players are incomplete who jump from junior to the pros. It's surely the same for coaches. They have a lot to teach us. It was our game, all right, but, once they got into it, they took aspects from other sports that are strategy-related."
Dave was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1992. He was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1997 and the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. One day soon he will be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

For all his efforts in all these international tournaments, King's greatest legacy is influencing how hockey is coached not only in Canada, but worldwide.

"He's the best coach on the planet," said coach and broadcaster Drew Remenda. "That's not an irresponsible and biased statement. He has influenced the way an entire nation coaches hockey. He is the most accessible educational resource for Canada's coaches through his teaching with the National Coaches Certification Program and many seminars and clinics. Dave has also expanded his efforts to educate and develop other hockey nations, including Sweden and Japan."

So many of his players went on to the NHL - Ed Belfour, Sean Burke, James Patrick, Bruce Driver, Zarley Zalapski, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Trent Yawney and so many more - while others went on to impressive coaching careers themselves - the ultimate influence of a coach - including Mike Babcock. 
He eventually did go to the NHL, He had turned down a lucrative offer to coach Vancouver in the mid 1980s to stick with the national team program, but finally jumped to become head coach of the NHL's Calgary Flames from 1992-93 to 1994-95 and the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2000-01 to 2002-03. He was also an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens from 1997-99. He has coached in the Russian Super League and the German Elite League.
In 2018 he returns to the Olympics as an assistant coach for Team Canada where he will support a coaching team he has coached himself at one time or another.
"Sean (Burke) twice opted out of NHL competition and took a hit to do it, financially. But he wanted achieve that medal so I know what it is that drives this guy. Willie (Desjardins) was a great [university] player. As a coach, he won a Calder Cup … To see these guys do well, it’s great to come back and coach with them. As a staff, I think it’s good to have an old guy – that’s me – and to have had a relationship with some of them as players. Craig Woodcroft, I had him a couple of times with the national team program and the Goodwill Games. Scotty Walker, I coached him at a world championship."
As for King's thoughts on the pros and cons of having NHL players at the Olympics or not:
"I knew it was best on best and I knew for hockey fans that would be really terrific because it would be best on best at a key time during the year, when everyone is in good form. So you recognize that’s a great event for TV. However, with my background, and seeing so many players enjoy the program, utilize the program for their own benefit, I was a little sad to see that happen. When the NHL decided not to take part in 2018, I know that a year ago when we were in the Deutschland and Spengler Cups talking to the players about the possibility of going to the Olympics, for a lot of these guys it’s a dream come true – that suddenly they’re candidates for the Olympic team. They were excited."

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