HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s well-travelled, international hockey coach has stepped out from behind the bench, but it will allow him to view coaching from a different perspective in the future.
David Leger, who spent nine of his 24 years coaching in five European or Asian countries, appears to be settling down and has accepted a key administrative job a lot closer to home.
After almost two months with Unterland of the Italian Hockey League and guiding the Cavaliers to wins in their first two games in 2021-22, Leger resigned as head coach Sept. 26 to accept the job as executive director of the Ontario Hockey Association.
The OHA, which is one of 13 provincial and regional branches of Hockey Canada, is a member partner of the Ontario Hockey Federation and the governing body for the majority of junior and senior hockey in Ontario.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Leger, 53, who is married to Darlene and has daughters Jordyn and Renee. “I’m sorry to leave my (men’s) team. It’s not what I wanted to do. I told management before our first two games and they asked me if I could coach the two games. I said yes and after that (Sunday) I was free to travel.
“For sure, I was excited to coach in Italy. I recognized from the beginning the team was trying to develop its core of players to ascend to a higher league (the Italian-based, 15-team Alps Hockey League with clubs from Slovenia and Austria). That was appealing to me. We played one game with a line of two 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old. They played well.”
In late August, Leger, who spent 11 seasons (2000-11) with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees including the final eight as head coach, learned about the OHA job opening. He was contacted and when the talks turned serious, he said yes to working at OHA headquarters in Cambridge, ON.
“Hockey is a small world,” he added. “I was contacted to see if I’d be interested. We met to see about the role and I welcomed that. It was a relatively longer process for me with exploratory meetings. At some point, it became serious. They asked me if I saw myself (taking) the role.”
One of his many roles as the OHA executive director will be in the development of coaches, officials and support staff. He will serve as a key support resource to the OHA’s Allan Cup Hockey League, Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Provincial Junior Hockey League.
“Over the last number of years, I’ve been in different places and it looks like fun. But I was looking for more stability in full-time employment,” said Leger, who was looking beyond more eight-month coaching contracts in Europe.
Leger, a certified Level 6 hockey official and professional referee in the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation during the 1997-98 season, will serve as the primary liaison between the OHA and the Ontario Hockey Federation.
Board member Marc Mercier was thrilled to have Leger join the OHA team.
“The OHA is extremely fortunate to be in a position to have an individual with Dave Leger’s character, experience and knowledge to serve our members in the role of executive director,” Mercier said in an OHA press release.
“Dave not only has extensive experience as a professional coach and official, (but also) he has a tremendous hockey background at the national, regional and local levels in the administration of the game, all of which … will serve as tremendous assets to the OHA.”
While Leger is recognized as a successful, high-performance coach, having taken some of his European teams to world U20 and U18 championships, there’s also an administrative side to his career in hockey.
He was Hockey Canada’s manager, regulations and member services from 2000-04. In that role, he dealt with branch executive directors across Canada and was able to assist in finding solutions for difficult issues.
Leger also was the technical director for the Ottawa District Hockey Association (now Hockey Eastern Ontario) and is a former president of the Ontario University Hockey Coaches Association.
“It (coaching) has been a fantastic life experience,” Leger recalled. “I was fortunate to be able to follow my head and my passion. Along the way, I made some great friends. For not being a pro player, I was fortunate to experience what I did.”
And now the coach has become an administrator.
“I’m excited to head to work not knowing what way the day will go and having to find solutions in problem areas,” he added.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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