David Ling: “Have Skates, Will Travel”

After eighteen years and eighteen different cities, David Ling’s professional hockey career was put on hold in 2013-14, at least temporarily.  The Halifax-born, Charlottetown raised forward completed nearly two decades in the pro ranks with the Nottingham Panthers in England, the previous spring. There was some talk of the 38-year old turning to coaching, but after thinking things over in the summer, Ling decided on joining the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars in Newfoundland Senior Hockey. 

“Life was dictating that it was time for me to come home to be with the kids,” says Ling. “I still love playing and going to Newfoundland still keeps me close to home and it’s the best competition in the region.”

His new coach, Ian Moores, was quoted as saying he will be “an exciting addition” to the defending Herder Memorial Trophy champions.  Ling, who is 5’10” and 197 lbs., brings a skilled, determined and gritty style of play to the rink. He’s a two-way skater who doesn’t mind getting in the thick of things, no matter what corner or place on the ice.

Ling was no stranger to Newfoundland, having played one season with the St. John’s Maple Leafs in the AHL in 2004-05.  He played in 62 games and had 28 goals and 60 assists for 88 points. He also picked up 152 minutes in penalties.  His American Hockey League totals are impressive - 477 games played, 149 goals, 298 assists, 497 points and 1,300 minutes in the penalty box.

The journeyman is well travelled but admits it wasn’t easy, especially the travel.  “I got to see a lot of the world and lots of cities, but it’s a hard life because you are away from family and it’s like being a nomad for twenty years going all over the place.”  Two of the stops were in Montreal for a few games with the Canadiens and about a season and a half with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Jump from Bantam to Junior "A" & Major Junior

His 20 years on the road began in Mississauga, Ontario in 1991-92, where Ling played for the St.Michael’s Buzzers in Metro Junior. That was just a season after playing under NHL legend, Forbes Kennedy, who coached the Charlottetown Abbies in the PEI Junior League.  Ling had a chance to play with his brother Jamie on the Abbies, who was 17 and David had just turned 15. (The elder Ling had more points with 25 to David’s 24 but the younger Ling had more goals with 12). That year they helped the Abbies to first place with 30 wins in 40 games.  The year previous both Lings were members of the Charlottetown Kinsmen that won the Puralator Challenge Cup as Atlantic Bantam Champions, defeating Quispamsis, New Brunswick, 7-4 in the final. Jamie with three goals and three assists, David with three goals and a pair of helpers. The elder Ling had six year pro career, in the East Coast and International Leagues, turning to coaching after his playing days came to an end.

“I learned a lot from Forbie, who taught me that as a smaller player you had to play on edge and have that tough side to you,” David states. “He taught me what it would take to play in the pros and always emphasized to all of his players what toughness was needed to not only survive, but win.”

David Ling’s step toward pro hockey came in 1992-93 when he joined the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL and played there for the next three seasons. He helped the Frontenacs to a 40-19-7 record as team Captain,  in 1994-95 while producing 61 goals, 74 assists, for 135 points in 62 games. He also picked up 136 minutes in penalties. Ling won the CHL Most Outstanding Player Award (Red Tilson Trophy) and was the top scoring right wing in the OHL, winning the Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy. 

“Those were some of my best years in hockey, playing in Kingston, as a seventeen and eighteen year old.”

The Frontenacs retired his number 17 jersey that spring.  He was taken by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft (in Round 7 and 179th overall) but was traded to the Calgary Flames organization once the Nordiques moved to Colorado. He had the distinction in 2017 of being the last of the Nordiques to still be playing in the pro ranks.  He made his pro debut with the Saint John Flames in 1995-96 with an impressive 24 goals, 32 assists for 56 points in 75 contests. Plus 179 minutes in penalties.

NHL Bound

He was on the move again in October, 1996 this time dealt to Montreal and played the next two seasons with the Fredericton Canadiens. In 1998 his services were traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, two years after that he was in the Dallas Stars system. Ling later signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets (fellow Islander Doug MacLean, who was Coach and GM, gave him a shot with the expansion club) and four years later he was a free agent signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I got a couple of games up in Montreal with the Canadiens early in my pro career but it was frustrating because I was being successful at the American League level and felt I should have had a better chance with the big club, early on,”  he remembers. “It took another few years to get another shot with Columbus and I am forever grateful to Doug MacLean for that. It took another Islander to help me realize my dream of playing in the NHL.  Sometimes the politics of the game take over.”

He showed his toughness getting into 26 fights during his time in the NHL, both in regular season and pre-season play.

“It was good to get a chance to play some pro hockey in my own province, even it was as a visiting player with Saint John and Fredericton when we played the PEI Senators. It was nice to get home on those trips.”

Ling’s top pro season as far as goal scoring came with the Kansas City Blades in 1999-00 when he scored 35 times. Arguably his best year overall was with the St. John’s Leafs in 2004-05.

Europe Calling

He also made the trek to Europe to play with teams like Moscow Spartak and Dynamo in Russia, Biel in Switzerland, Jokerit Helsinki, Finland, plus Khabarovsk Amur in the KHL.  In between European stops he also returned to the AHL with the Toronto Marlies in 2007-08 and the Providence Bruins in 2011-12.  There was one year in Italy and the season in Nottingham, after that.

Ling says the KHL is a tough league. “It is the second best league in the world and the style of play is different. Some guys go over there after playing in the NHL and don’t do as well as you would think because there is far too much expectation. They tend to forget there are role players who may not be the best scorers. It is a great league but it’s a tough country to live in.”

While in England in 2012-13 he completed his MBA, which was also a goal he wanted to achieve.

His stay in Conception Bay playing on weekends was short lived.

Ling joined the Val Pusteria HC in Italy later in the season and played 14 games collecting a goal and 15 assists and then 4 goals and 18 assists in 16 playoff games.

He joined the Brampton Beast for 2014-15 and 46 games in the ECHL compiling 9 goals and 41 points.  He also played in three games with Oklahoma City with the Barons the same season.

Nottingham called him back for part of 2015-16 but he returned and played 26 games with Brampton and continued to play, now in his 40’s for parts of 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Make that, 21 cities in 23 years.

Back Home

In 2018-19 Linger joined the Hamilton Steelhawks in Ontario Senior hockey at the age of 43, turning 44 in January of 2019.  Shades of Gordie Howe, who played into his 50’s.

In 12 regular season games the middle-aged Ling produced 2 goals, 7 assists for nine points and to show his gritty side was still alive, he picked up 74 minutes in penalties.

In five Allan Cup playoff games he produced a goal and an assist as the Steelhawks went 3-4.

Other Ling family members have made their mark in hockey as well.

Brother Jamie Ling played with David on the 1988-89 Atlantic Bantam Purolator Cup champions for PEI at the Sportsplex in Sherwood and went on for a fine pro career in the minors from 1996-97 to 2002-03 in the AHL, IHL and ECHL as a centre.  He turned to coaching with Dayton for three years beginning in 2000-01 through 2004-05.

Son Bates (named after father David’s team-mate and friend Bates Battaglia) played on the PEI Bantam AAA champion Central Attack in 2018-19 with 13 goal and 27 points in 28 games. He also played a few games with the Island Major Midget champion Kensington Wild.  Like father and uncle, he has a good future ahead of him.

One thing about David Ling has always been his attitude.  A cheery guy who has that “lunch bucket” attitude wherever he has played – get up and go to work, and play your hardest no matter where or who you are facing. He is also an unselfish kind of player who quickly always earns the respect of his team mates. He will go to battle for you, game in and game out.

Quite obviously the kind of guy you want to play with and if you are an opponent you also have to respect his grit and drive.

Have skates and stick. Will travel.