David Alexander always knew he would get to the NHL.
“I created this white heat in my mind, it almost became obsessive, I was going to do it no matter what.” Alexander’s ultimate goal was to be a goalie coach in the National Hockey League by 35.
Brian Daccord, a goalie instructor based out of New England was the first person to see something special in the Moncton, New Brunswick native.
Alexander and his father John made the trek to Daccord’s goalie school to observe and learn from one of the best. “It’s like a goalie factor down there, they just pump out NHL draft picks.”
“I wanted to go down there and learn, Brian was great, he let us on the ice and gave us our own station that first year and we ended up coaching there for next few years,” added Alexander.
“Brian told me when I was 22, that I would be coaching in the NHL at 35.”
“At that point I never thought of coaching as a job, coaching was just a thing do to back then to keep me busy while I was in university,” Alexander said. “I had worked with Kevin Pottle in Fredericton with the Midget AAA’s but it was Brian that really planted the seed.”
“I actually wrote it down at that point, that I would be coaching in the NHL at 35.” Alexander who was studying education at the time, started to read countless articles and books on success, goal and mind setting.
It was that same year that Alexander read an article on Moncton area hockey legend Allan Power. “I remember Al being quoted saying that he made the NHL in a different way, I found that really interesting and quite intriguing.”
“The first thing that appeared in all of my research was belief, but it has to be authentic. You just can’t say you are going to do it and not be sure about it, so at that point I became very adamant that I was going to make it,” said Alexander.
It was a connection Alexander made at Daccord’s goalie school that proved to be the break he needed. “I met Scott Darling at Daccord’s camp and it just so happened that the goalie coaching job opened up at U of Maine.” “Scott called me to ask, how far I was from Maine, and that if he put in a good word there would I consider taking the job.”
Alexander jumped at the opportunity but it meant he would become a travelling man. “I would leave Moncton Wednesday and would oversee practice, Thursday and Friday and stick around for the weekend games, if things went well I would blast out of there and be back to teach on Monday, if things didn’t go well I would stay and do another session with the goaltenders.”
“When I got back to Moncton, I worked remotely for the next week and half with Maine while supply teaching. It was hard but I knew if I wanted to coach I would have make sacrifices along the way.”
The 473 km trek to Orono paid dividends for the progression of Alexander’s coaching career and would eventually lead to a job in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. “I missed Ben Bishop by one year at Maine, but at that time Jake Allen was going to Peoria and he met Ben,” recalled Alexander.
“That summer I started my first pro camp, we were running it quietly out of Alfond arena. “We had Jimmy Howard, Jake Allen, Ben Bishop and couple of the Maine guys, but it was a really good group.”
The hockey world is one that is built on connections. “I got to knew Ben quite well over that time and it just so happened that the job in Syracuse was vacant so he put a good word in there for me.”
By the end of the first week, with several people contacting the Tampa Bay Lightning organization on Alexander’s behalf he would eventually get a phone call from Steve Yzerman.
“To be hired by a man like Mr. Yzerman is a really big deal, it adds instant credibility. “Julien Brisebrois (the Asst. GM with Tampa) was very instrumental for me as well, he taught me so much during that time,” said Alexander.
Alexander would wear several hats while in Syracuse and would take on video coaching role along with the goaltending duties.
“The video part of my job really did open my eyes, I understand the game at a higher level now and how that effects goaltending even more, that experience really helped me to become a better coach.”
Alexander credits the forward thinking Lightning organization for including their AHL affiliates coaching staff during their playoff runs. “Unfortunately, we weren’t winning in Syracuse but a lot of our players were getting promoted but Tampa was fully invested in their staff in Syracuse which looking back on it was unbelievable.”
“I was a fly on the wall during the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Tampa, I was around for their tough loss to Montreal and the Conference Final loss to Pittsburgh and the Cup final against Chicago.”
“I learned so much from being in the thick of it, and seeing player meetings and being part of coaches meetings during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but more importantly I gained some NHL experience in a different way,” said Alexander.
“The professional growth Tampa provided for me and the resources they invested there is unbelievable, they are a world class organization, they try to grow from within, it’s an amazing culture.”
The on the job training Alexander received from his time in Syracuse and Tampa working with veteran goaltenders and young prospects a like not only helped his progression as a coach but helped him to understand the people behind the mask.
“Some guys come to you very raw, you draft them knowing they are very raw and that there is a lot of developing as far as what’s done in the crease while other guys come to you far more polished so there are other things to work on, the mental part of it or lifestyle management.”
“There are a lot more to athletes then people would imagine, they are people first so there are different parts of goaltending that you have to manage.”
Alexander believes understanding the athlete on a personal level has become his strongest attribute as a coach. “I never played in the NHL, from the beginning I realized that was going to be a knock of me, so I had to flip that around somehow and make it my competitive advantage,” said Alexander.
“So every NHL guy I get to work with, I have to fully understand their career and take with me, so I’m the sum of the 14 NHL goalies I have worked with, I’m not one guy with one career,” explained Alexander.
“I have worked with a number of NHL guys over my time so now I feel I’m the greater sum of all of them, so that’s what has made me a really good coach.”
One of Alexander’s coaching highlights was very bittersweet and one he reflects on a lot. “That was a weird situation you are working for Tampa and the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, I remember walking back to the coaches office and there’s Scott Darling’s family in the hall crying, waiting to go out to celebrate the Cup victory.”
“Scott was instrumental in my career because at that time I was really focused on what was going on in the paint, I saw Scott Darling with pads on, not as a person completely.”
“In retrospect, being a young coach you are really worried about the performance side of things, you kind of forget they are people to and there are other things going on their lives,” said Alexander.
“That’s what good coaching is about, it’s about managing people first, then the athlete,” added Alexander. “If life outside the rink is in check you are going to get the best out of them when they put the skates on.”
Alexander is confident his relationship with his long-time student and friend Jake Allen can translate into success for the St. Louis Blues.
“I’m very grateful to have met Jake at such a young age, coaching him in Midget.”
“Even when he went off to play major junior, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t a distraction during that time. I would talk to him once a month just to check in to see how he and his family was doing,” Alexander explained.
“Jake has had some great goaltending coaches in the past at every level, but I never wanted to be guy coaching him in the background, because in those situations the athlete suffers.”
However, Alexander’s coaching relationship with Allen over the years would kick into full gear during the summer months. “I would share some things that I learned a long the way and vice versa.”
“It’s been like professional development, over the summer months the last few years, if there are things that I could help him with, I would, but nothing too major during those times,” said Alexander.
“I’m really excited to re-hatch that true coaching relationship that we had back then, it’s going to be a lot of fun this season in St. Louis and I can’t wait to get going.”
Alexander is eager to build game plans for all of the goaltenders in the Blues organization and believes that’s how goaltenders stay more consistent throughout the season.
“The more honest you are with the guys your working with the more they will respect you as a coach,” added Alexander.
So the question remains, has the hockey world seen the best of Jake Allen?
“I think we have seen a lot of good parts of Jake Allen, but I think the big thing right now is formulating that in-season consistency, but that can be said for a lot of goalies,” Alexander said.
“Building a game plan for Jake that minimizes the lows is important, every athlete goes through that but what makes great athletes great, is they plot through those times quickly and that’s how they get back on track.”
Alexander isn’t feeling any pressure entering his first full season as a goaltending coach in the NHL.
“There’s a lot of planning right now, I guess the pressure if there is any, is to make sure that this training camp, every goalie in the organization walks away saying that was their best training camp ever.”
Alexander is looking forward to working with Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur and using him as a resource when needed.
“As a goalie coach you are on an island, what you do with your goalies is very foreign.” “Of all the coaches I have worked with in the past, there are very few that understand what the heck is going on in the crease,” explained the Moncton native. “All they want is the goalie to stop the puck and they don’t care what it looks like, ultimately just stop it.”
“I’m now in a situation, where I have someone else that knows what is going inside the crease, which is really neat, so I’m not on an island anymore so to bounce ideas off him and draw on his experience, it’s going to be an amazing resource to talk to Marty,” said Alexander.
Alexander agreed to a three-year contract with the Blues the day before his 35th birthday.
“I wanted to teach my daughter’s Lydia and Olive, that you could do anything you put your mind to.”
“My wife Gillyon, is an amazing person and is an optimist, she’s always in a great mood, she is a check and balance for me, I consider my family to be my balance, support system and ultimately my purpose.”
David Alexander’s ultimate mission was accomplished in 2019 when the St Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup after a dominate Game 7 victory over the Boston Bruins.
The quest for a second Stanley Cup continues.