DUBUQUE, Iowa — Dubuque Fighting Saints head coach Oliver David has accepted the position of assistant coach of EHC Biel, a pro team in the Swiss National League. David departs the Fighting Saints after leading the team to a 111-83-28 record (.563), three playoff berths, and the recognition of USHL Coach of the Year after the conclusion of the 2019–20 season. His 111 victories rank second all-time in Tier-I Fighting Saints history behind Jim Montgomery (118).
“I’d like to thank the ownership group of Northern Lights Hockey. The journey through three seasons as an assistant coach, and back for four more as head coach, was anything but linear. But I was always given the resources and the opportunities to continue my development as a coach,” David said. “For me, learning is one of the biggest points of life, in my opinion, and I was able to do that and grow professionally, here in Dubuque, directly because of the supportive and involved ownership.”
“I was first given the opportunity to return as head coach because of Kalle Larsson’s belief in my abilities, and I continued to get opportunity because of his backing over the years,” David added. “I owe any career advancement from here on out to him and the entire organization.”
EHC Biel, as it is known by German speakers in the completely bilingual city, is also known as HC Bienne by the French-speaking residents of Biel-Bienne, Switzerland. Biel-Bienne has won the Swiss National League championship on three occasions (1978, 1981, 1983) and the tier-two Swiss League championship on five occasions (1975, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008). They currently compete in the Swiss National League, the top tier of hockey competition in the country, and among the best hockey leagues in Europe. They were founded in 1939, and they play at Tissot Arena.
David was named head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints on May 31, 2017. As head coach of the Fighting Saints, he helped launch the organization to one of the highest heights ever during the 2019–20 season. The Fighting Saints finished a pandemic-shortened season with a 33-13-2 record after 48 games, good for a .708 points percentage, featured the USHL Goaltender of the Year, Erik Portillo, the USHL Player of the Year, Riese Gaber, and five All-USHL selections.
While the 2019–20 season could be chalked up to his best ever, the 2020–21 season showcased his ability to maximize talent through development, and his ability to turn a season around. The Saints started this past season with a 1-10-0 mark after eleven games, but finished the year with a 23-13-5 mark to extend the organization’s playoff streak to ten consecutive completed seasons, all while continuing to battle the Coronavirus pandemic and keep the team as healthy as possible. The Saints bowed out to the eventual Clark Cup champions in the first round.
“OD’s path in the hockey world is somewhat unique. But what has enabled him to succeed is his dedication to the coaching profession and his constant desire to learn and improve. Facing the adversity of this COVID-impacted season, we were all impressed by his ability to manage the process, keep the team engaged, and turn around the season after the slow start,” said Brad Kwong, Managing Partner of Northern Lights Hockey. “OD has shown great growth over seven seasons with our organization, but he has not reached his full potential. Personally, having lived and worked in Switzerland, I am confident that this next step is the best one for his career and his family.”
“On behalf of the ownership group, I would like to thank him and wish him and his family the very best on this next life adventure.”
David’s tenure as head coach saw his players commit to the community and to the classroom. The Fighting Saints featured 2018 USHL Scholar-Athlete Award-winner Alex Steeves, 2019 USHL Scholar-Athlete Mason McCormick, and USHL All-Academics Aidan Fulp, Jacob Semik, Ty Jackson, Riley Stuart and Stephen Halliday. Fulp also captured the 2020 Curt Hammer Award, which is given to the USHL player that distinguishes themselves by demonstrating outstanding performance skills, pride and determination.
With the Saints, David developed players to move them closer to their NHL dreams. He had a hand in the development of Toronto Maple Leafs signee Alex Steeves, New Jersey Devils forward Tyce Thompson, Arizona Coyotes prospect and Finnish league phenom Matias Maccelli, Hartford Wolf Pack forward James Sanchez, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Josh Maniscalco.
“OD has put his heart and soul into the Dubuque Fighting Saints for a long time. He showed up every day prepared and ready to help our players get better in any way he could on and off the ice,” Larsson said. “One of our core values is to move people on and help them fulfill their dreams, and that does not end with the players, but with the staff as well. We are excited for this great opportunity for Oliver and his family to join the professional ranks of hockey.”
“For six of the last seven years, we have worked side by side, and I will probably miss OD more than he realizes. He’s truly one of a kind, and from all of us here in Dubuque, I want to say thanks for everything, and we look forward to following your career.”
As assistant coach of the Fighting Saints under both Matt Shaw and Jason Lammers, David was charged with the defensive side of the puck, and helped the team to a 108-61-11 mark across three seasons. He coached defensive standouts such as Keegan Ford, Casey Johnson, Ryan Zuhlsdorf, William Lagesson and Joey Keane. David was promoted to associate head coach and assistant general manager prior to the 2015–16 season, and the Saints fought their way to the Clark Cup Final, which was the organization’s third trip to the championship round since 2010.
The Los Angeles native is in rare company as one of very few American coaches to coach in the North American Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, and the USHL.
David spent one season as assistant coach of the Portland Winterhawks, one of the top-tier franchises in the WHL, for the 2016–17 season. He coached future pros such as Cody Glass, Henri Jokiharju, Skyler McKenzie, Caleb Jones, Joachim Blichfeld, Evan Weinger and Keoni Texeira. The Winterhawks finished with a 40-28-4 record, and made the playoffs out of the Western Conference.
His junior hockey coaching journey began in the far-off reaches of Soldotna, Alaska, with the Kenai River Brown Bears. After taking over as head coach of the team in 2009, as well as serving as alternate governor and director of hockey operations, the Brown Bears saw an immediate turnaround. He took the fledgling organization to four consecutive Robertson Cup playoff appearances, which had never been done before.
David, along with his wife, Denee, and children Oden and Denver, will make the move to Switzerland in July. The search for a new head coach of the Fighting Saints is underway.