Caden and Layten Oliver have brought a deeper meaning of life to Dave Oliver, who as the new Director of Player Development for the Colorado Avalanche, is all about improvement and growth.
Dave doesn’t want the “go, go hockey” life, rather having both his sons trying a variety of sports as he and his wife, Shawna, begin a new adventure out in Lavington.
“They say hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in athletics and my oldest (Caden, 5) can hit it pretty darn good,” laughed Dave, outside The Morning Star office a few Fridays ago. “So hopefully that means something down the road. Maybe he’ll be running logging trucks up in Lumby, who knows. It’s fun watching them go from three to five when their co-ordination kicks in.”
Oliver, 43, is in his eighth season with the Avs. He spent the last three seasons as Director of AHL Operations for the Lake Erie Monsters, Colorado’s American League affiliate in Cleveland.
He will rack up the frequent flyer miles being based out of Vernon. Tyler Wright is coaching Bantam Rep hockey here and has the same job as Oliver with the Detroit Red Wings. He will likely be on some flights alongside Oliver.
In his new role, Oliver works with Avalanche assistant GM Craig Billington in overseeing the development of all of the franchise’s prospects in the pro, junior and college ranks in both North America and Europe.
“Craig Billington and I worked real well together (with Lake Erie) and he got the promotion to assistant GM with Colorado and he put my name in there for this gig. It’s pretty exciting, and obviously to be able to move back to Vernon, is a nice little topper for it.”
Oliver says Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy quickly established a completely different philosophy when they joined the Avs.
“It’s all geared towards winning. Who better to look at than those two guys? They’re both Hall of Fame players and it only took them one year of doing the NHL thing to get the Avalanche back on the map. There’s a new level of what you have to do on a daily basis if you want to stay involved. It’s a lot of fun.”
Oliver’s management career took a rather bizarre twist when the 2012 NHL lockout forced him to help coach the Monsters. He loved working under David Quinn, now head coach of the Boston University Terriers.
“I was fortunate enough to work under him for a year because what he did was pretty amazing from a coaching standpoint. Just the way he conducted himself. You gotta walk that fine line in being too hard and getting guys to wanna win and compete for you. He just tight-roped it all and he was a good communicator.”
Oliver also spent time on the Monsters’ bench alongside Dean Chynoweth, a former first-round NHL draft pick.
“He’s a Western League guy and he ran a completely different system, So two guys, two different coaching systems. It was a pretty cool experience all in all. I can use that in my job developing my guys because these guys, from year to year, are going to go from one coach to the next and you gotta do your job. I’m basically coaching skills within another coach’s system.”
While home for the summer, Oliver tried some new approaches with local junior prospects trying to gain an edge. The tricky part of his job is dealing with players all hearing different advice all over the planet.
“I love my job because I really get to work on so many different aspects of the game. If a kid’s horrible at crossing over or faceoffs or hitting or dee zone coverage, I get to specify on that. Normally, a coach has 23 guys to coach so you’re mainly doing systems stuff and there’s very little time at the end of practice to work on what the individual needs to excel. If I pick two or three things out of a weekend that a kid needs to work on, that’s a win because if I can get him on track doing those three things, it’s going to add to what he does well.”
Selected by the Oilers in the seventh round (144th overall) of the 1991 Entry Draft, Oliver played in 233 career NHL games with the Oilers, Rangers, Senators, Coyotes and Stars.
He led the Oilers with 16 goals during the ‘95 shortened season, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in scoring. He was second behind Peter Forsberg for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
Oliver played four seasons of collegiate hockey for the University of Michigan Wolverines and was named the CCHA’s Player of the Year in 1993-94.
He still gets chills recalling the moment in 1990 when the Vernon Lakers won the Centennial Cup on home ice and cherishes his pro career more than ever.
“When you’re in it, you don’t really appreciate what you did because you always want that next game. You think ‘I’m better than that guy.’ You hear that all the time. ‘‘I’m better than that guy and he’s still playing.’ All those things go through your head. After a while, you get old and you get slow and it’s hard to get out of bed and you can’t walk the same. You try and skate with the kids and you realize, being on this side of the fence in administration/pro side, it’s amazing anybody makes it because it’s tough. It’s really hard to make it.”
And while he’s stoked about the Avs’ chances at glory as the likes of Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon get better by the hour, Oliver is more impressed being a dad.
“There’s nothing like being a dad. It certainly puts your job and everything you’ve done in your pro career into perspective because there’s nothing more important than that.”
Well, maybe former Kelowna Rocket d-man Tyson Barrie comes the closest. Barrie, 23, was a third-round pick in 2009, but plays like a first rounder.
“When the game is on the line, that kid steps up. He’s got amazing high-end skill and as good as he is a hockey player, he’s an even better kid. He’s just a great person. He’s top notch. He’s got his contract done and he’s healthy and he’s going to be a big part of the Avs. He’s going to have a great year.”