Phil David arrived in Peterborough shortly after the start of the 2007/2008 season – the team had lost three of its opening four fixtures and disharmony appeared rife in the camp. Having barely been in the country half a day, Coach David saw Phantoms fail again in Bracknell and, the following night in Bretton, fans looked on at their smartly dressed coach of youthful appearance and immediately started to wonder whether he had what was needed to turn the faltering Phantoms side around.
By close of the season, coach David had made his mark and Phantoms had collected their first major silverware for many years and, although the modest Nova Scotia native refuses to take any credit for the team’s treble winning exploits of the following season, there was no doubt that at least a small part of the foundations for that incredible season had been formed during his time with the club.
An article in Phil’s hometown Cape Breton Post, shortly after his arrival in Peterborough, also adds an interesting introduction to his time with Phantoms ……..
It’s been a change of life in more ways than one for Phil David !
The 42-year-old Sydney native recently signed on as head coach of the Peterborough Phantoms of the English Premier Hockey League following several years with Toronto Junior Canadiens organization where he led the midget ‘AAA’ club to the national semifinal at the Telus Cup and most recently served as assistant coach with their junior ‘A’ squad.
David was just seven weeks into his stint with the junior club when he was contacted by Seattle-based agent Adam Prossin, a fellow Sydney native. “Adam called to just ask about some players in Toronto and during the conversation, he asked what I was doing and I said I was coaching junior ‘A’ hockey,” explained David. “While I was enjoying it, I wanted to be a head coach again and I wanted to try and find way to see if I could make a living out of this.” Prossin knew of a couple of opportunities, one in Belgium and one in England. Concerns of a language barrier in Belgium made the choice easy and after a quick trip to England and three days of interviews with the owners, David was hired.
“Following those three days, there were still some things I had to submit like a practice plan, my vision for the team and how I would change things,” said David. “They called me the next Wednesday and said they wanted to hire me, but they wanted me for the weekend so I had four days to get (to England). “Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know the English Premier League existed and now I’m coaching in it !”
The move to England completes a complete life transition for David, who lost a year of coaching and work while battling cancer a little more than a year ago.
While he had started feeling ill during the Telus Cup, it wasn’t until August 29, 2006 when David was rushed to the hospital that he found out he had several cancerous tumours, one of which was blocking his digestive system. Emergency surgery, chemo, seizures and loss of his job followed, but in May, David found a new beginning.
“All the bad things that could happen, happened in the space of about seven months,” said David. “But the best thing about it was it gave me the freedom to just start looking at different priorities in life.”
David started his own consulting company and while he admitted he was still working long hours, they were “his hours” and the freedom of being his own boss led him back into coaching. “It really gave me the freedom to get back involved in hockey again because coaching at the junior level in Toronto is really a huge time commitment and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it if I had still been working a typical 9-to-5 job. Everything happens for a reason and frankly if I didn’t have my own company and the ability to suspend operations of it I would not have been able to come over here on a moments notice.”
Upon arriving in England, David went from the airport to the arena where he promptly suffered a loss in his first game behind the bench. A win followed in the next game and now, more settled into his new job, he has a positive outlook on this season and his future. “I absolutely love it,” said David, who credits childhood coaches like Dicker MacDonald, Jackie MacKeigan and Jigger Andrea for instilling the love of hockey into his life. “For me it’s a dream come true. I never quite thought it would happen in England, but for probably the last five years I’ve wanted to find a way to make hockey a job and this is the closest I’ve been. It doesn’t pay a lot, but that’s not the point. The point is to be involved at a higher level that’s called pro and to see what doors this may open up for me.”
A few days ago, I caught up with Phil back home in Canada and he needed little excuse to enthuse about his time here …….
Your Phantoms team in 2007/2008 finished strongly and many were surprised that you never made it back the following season – what were the issues that prevented you getting back over here ?
“When I left Peterborough in April, 2008 – and its hard to believe it’s already three years – my full intention was to go back for at least one more year. That season was a highlight of my life and the Peterborough opportunity just came at the right time. Phil Wing and Jon Kynaston had extended an offer to return before I left and I was certain I could work out a way to come back ….. but there were two barriers.
The first was my job. At that time, I ran my own small business consulting firm and I needed to pick up clients as soon as I came back to Toronto to pay the mortgage. The challenge was that the companies I solicited needed my services beyond the start of the 2008/2009 season and it would have been hard to pack up and leave without finishing the job, even if I could have worked ‘remotely’ from the Peterborough Arena as I had done when I first arrived in 2007.
The second, bigger, challenge was that I couldn’t get a visa to work in England as a hockey coach and I didn’t have a consulting client base over there to pay the bills back home if I was to go over to the UK as a ‘volunteer’. Jon was very patient but finally towards the middle of May, I had to withdraw my name, which was devastating for me because I felt there was still some unfinished business and I truly loved being in Peterborough.”
Many fans now readily point to your Phantoms team as being the foundation for the treble-winning 2008/2009 season …… did you feel the side had the potential to go on and win any of the “majors” ?
“I’m not sure how much I had to do with that foundation to be fair. The truth is, Jon had already put the core of the team in place before I arrived. Even when I flew over for my interview to watch the club play the week before I actually signed on, I could tell the Phantoms had the right ingredients to be a very strong team. They just needed to believe it and it took about six weeks and some key player moves until that started to happen.
It was after a 2-1 win against Guildford in early December that I realized we had something potentially very special. Following that game, I firmly believed the team had an extremely good chance to win it all, but we just needed a few more tweaks to get over the hump, primarily more speed throughout the lineup to keep pace for a whole game with stronger depth teams (like Guildford and MK who thrived on their larger ice surfaces).
I always felt that Wally and Euan were the best goaltending duo in the league; Dwayne Newman was the best inspirational leader and the most fearless player I’ve ever coached; Remps and Maris were the top players in the league and young guys like Peacock were as good as any Brits we played against. With that foundation on the ice and solid management off the ice through Phil, Rob, Jon and Paul Bignell, it was clear to me that the team was very, very close. But intuitively, I felt deep down that we weren’t quite ready that year to go all the way.”
Did you keep tabs on the progress of the 2008/2009 team and, if so, what did you think of their achievements and did you feel like you had a small part in their incredible success ?
“Absolutely, I keep track of the Phantoms to this day. I check in just about every Sunday evening to see how they did but I have to admit as time goes on, I don’t get as emotional as I used to if they come up short !
I think their treble year was an incredible achievement. To win one Cup is hard enough as we learned the previous year in the victory over MK. To keep the momentum going is what is even more difficult. After winning that Cup, the players had worked so hard that there just wasn’t enough steam and emotion left to keep the same pace through the playoffs. The fact that the 2008/2009 Phantoms did it three times just twelve months later is a rare achievement !
Do I think I played a small part in their success? I’m not being humble but no, I don’t believe I had anything to do with the Phantoms’ success in 2008/2009. It was a different year and a different team with a new coach who had a more relaxed style that got the most out of his players. My hat goes off to the coaching staff for doing what I could only dream of doing ! I know it sounds selfish, but when they won the league championship, I was elated for the team but I remember feeling that a small piece of me also wished I could share in the whole experience.”
Looking back on your time in Peterborough, what were the highlights for you – the moments that still put a smile on your face ?
“Quite honestly, every day was a highlight and I don’t mean to sound cliched. Four months before I arrived, I was finishing treatment for colon cancer and was relieved of a terrific job running the marketing department for an international travel company on my last day of care – all of which turned my life upside-down. But hockey and coaching were my passion and to get the chance to pursue a dream, in a different country, with such a terrific group of people in a city I loved is still inspiring. To this day, I still can’t believe my luck !
The special moments …. there were so many. Meeting the Kynaston family and turning my six day stay while I looked for an apartment into six months with Jackie, Jon and their boys will always be very special. The first win against Telford after getting pummeled by Bracknell the previous week, three hours after I stepped off the plane. The victory over Guildford the week after Taras was released when his replacement scored the winning goal ….. that was the turning point of the season. And of course, the Cup win in MK …… I never realized how important that was to the fans and the players so when the final buzzer went, I was caught off guard by the euphoria !
But overall, the city of Peterborough, the fans who lived and breathed the Phantoms and the entire six month experience will always remain a life highlight and I will be eternally grateful that Phil and Jon took a chance on hiring a Junior coach with no pro experience !”
What have you been up to since returning home from Peterborough and do you still have any hockey ambitions that might bring you back over this way ?
“I came back and quickly resurrected my small business consulting company but with the recession, I was getting 50 cents on the dollar vs. what I was getting paid before I left for England so it was a lot of hard work to try to maintain a certain income level. I was very active in coaching the first two years back, including a stint in Junior A where I had the exciting privilege to re-build a team that had finished last in the country out of 144 teams. We did extremely well and several players received NCAA scholarships but I wasn’t able to finish out the season due to my job and to be honest, friction with the GM. I still do lots of work with that team but I realized in January, 2010 that I had to focus on my career and that coaching was not going to pay the bills.
Since then, I took on a full time job as the General Manager of Parking and Ground Transportation at the Toronto Airport, so I’m proud to say I run the largest parking facility in the country …… which means I’m the one travelers yell at when they complain about the cost to park their car !
But what I’m most proud of is a new company I started last February called Student Athlete Planning Services which caters to elite hockey players who are trying to move into Major Junior or (primarily) NCAA hockey. It’s going extremely well and I’m constantly having to re-invent the business model so I can take on more clients without compromising the depth of service I provide their families ….. or losing focus on my job at the airport.
However, my heart remains in coaching and when the time is right, I’d like to give it another shot. I’ve been coaching since 1993 so not being behind the bench this past year was tough emotionally. But I realized that unless you are coaching at the highest level or you’re hooked up with a wealthy owner who is willing to pay a huge salary – and they are unfortunately rare – it’s not possible to make a sustainable living. So if and when I do this again, I’ll go in with my eyes wide open, knowing I can’t depend on coaching as a career choice but more so as a life choice – just as I did back in October, 2007 !”
Many thanks for your time Phil and all the best in your many ventures !
“No problem. Please say hi to all the folks back in Peterborough. Thanks for reaching out. The city, team and fans will always hold a special place in my head and my heart.”