He admittedly and rightly got emotional.
When Doug Armstrong sat Dave Allison down and offered him the position as head coach of the Iowa Stars, it was as if he had just told Allison he was about to be a first-time father.
“I talked to them as a group and individually, and Doug [who is the general manager for the Dallas Stars] presented the opportunity to me, and it was emotional,” the former head coach of the Borderland Thunder conceded.
The Stars, based out of Des Moines, will be making their American Hockey League debut this coming season and Allison will play an integral role in an organization that doesn’t “just want to develop kids to go to the National Hockey League, they’re developing kids to stay and contribute in the NHL.”
The interview process was a short one—it took only one day (May 18) for Armstrong and the other Stars executives to choose Allison—but his appointment has been nine years in the making.
While coaching for the Grand Rapid Griffins of the International Hockey League (where he would have two winning seasons), Allison met Armstrong at a Kalamazoo restaurant along with Bob Gainey (the Stars’ general manager).
Armstrong was the assistant general manager at the time and the two kept in touch. And it’s obvious—from spending only one day with Allison before offering him the position—that the 46-year-old Fort Frances native made a good impression.
“Everything has moved as well as you can possibly imagine with a process like this,” said Allison, who was introduced as the head coach last Thursday at a press conference at the Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.
“We are very excited to have Dave and [director of hockey operations Scott White] as part of our inaugural team here with the Iowa Stars,” Armstrong said in a press release.
“They will be heavily-involved in the success of the team on the ice, developing our top prospects to one day play in the NHL,” he added.
“They both have a wealth of experience in coaching and developing hockey players, and are a perfect for what we want to accomplish here with the Iowa Stars.”
Allison believes that’s what separated him from the rest of the candidates—his undying willingness to commit to the development of a hockey player.
“I enjoy development as much as any factor in coaching,” he remarked. “You have to develop in order to win, and I’ve been able to develop and win at the same time, and I think they go hand in hand.”
His record speaks for itself. Allison twice has taken a team from worst to first in one season (Roanoke and P.E.I.)
He was named coach of the year in the ECHL in 1989-’90 with Virginia, where he amassed a 36-19-6 record, and also helped the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL improve 45 points in his first year behind the bench in 1992-’93 (going from second worst to second best in one season).
And this is the fourth time Allison has been involved with a new franchise. The others were Albany (IHL) in 1990, Grand Rapids (IHL) in 1996, and Fort Wayne (UHL) in 1999.
Overall, he has coached 942 regular-season games over his 15-year coaching career at the minor and junior levels, sporting a record of 474-358-50-60 (.619).
He also had a brief stint as head coach for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators in 1995-’96, where he garnered a 2-22-1 record before being replaced by Jacques Martin.
There’s more—Allison also has developed and coached players like Pavol Demitra, Chris Gratton, Brett Lindros, Chad Kilger, and Ville Peltonen.
This will be Allison’s 12th job since he started coaching in 1986. And though the family of five has had to unpack and repack boxes a number of times, he believes the experience “is a great learning tool.
“There’s always trepidation, especially with the young ones about moving, but I think we’re all excited about this opportunity,” Allison said.
The family, which includes his wife, Marion, and daughters, Avery (13), Olivia (10), and Isabella (eight), will be house shopping in a couple of weeks, with Allison heading down there in July.
The rest of the family will follow in early August.
“The ability to move and experience life in different areas is a difficult thing, but kids are resilient,” Allison said. “And it’s a great opportunity for not only me but my family, as well.”
But what of Allison’s AA Hockey Camp here July 25-29. Is that still a go?
Yes. And because of Allison’s new job, he may be able to give more reason for kids to sign up.
“We have every intention of having a great camp and I’ll be looking at getting some players to come down as guest coaches and maybe even get some coaches to come, as well,” he noted.
Allison’s move to the AHL comes with news that the Borderland Thunder will not ice a team this coming season.
Thunder GM Brent Tookenay is nothing but grateful for having had Allison for three years, during which time he notched a 87-44-11-6 mark overall (30-15-3-0 this past season).
“It’s a good day. I think it’s great news. Davey deserves that,” Tookenay said. “He’s a guy that really does things with his heart and really puts his heart and soul into everything.”
“We were very fortunate to have him for as long as we did, and I think our kids were fortunate to be coached by someone of a high level,” echoed Thunder president Sam Bruyere.
So how did his three years with the Thunder treat Allison?
“Every experience helps you develop as a coach,” he replied. “This was an experience at the grassroots level and hopefully as time goes by, [I] might be able to make some suggestions to the CJAHL to make it easier for people to enjoy the game.”
But why was Allison here in the first place?
His father, Bill, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (he is in the latter stages of the disease) and when his mother, Joan, asked for his help, Dave complied even though he was coaching the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL at the time.
The decision spoke volumes about his dedication to his family.
“There were times we wondered why we did come, but this all makes it worth it,” said Allison.
When asked if he feels luckier than a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow, Allison let out a brief laugh and said, “I pinch myself every day.”
“It’s just a gift to be back and I’m not going to be taking this lightly.
“There’s not much better of a word to use than perfect. The people I’m working for and the people I’m working with—it’s just perfect,” he concluded.
He admittedly and rightly got emotional.