Zimmerman becomes first coach to lead deaf hockey team to three international golds

Chris Harris, DLJ Sports
David Zimmerman is seen holding up one of his national hockey team’s gold medals.

“My father was reading a magazine in Colorado on a skiing trip and ran across an advertisement about the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired and he decided to take me to the camp,” David Zimmerman recalled.

Zimmerman worked his way up from player to coach, becoming the only deaf hockey coach to have a Level 5 education.

And as the cliché goes — the rest is history.

Zimmerman, who have been a teacher at the North Dakota School for the Deaf here in Devils Lake for 30 years, forged that stint at Stan Mikita into becoming one of the most successful coaches in the annals of international hockey when he led the US men’s national deaf hockey team to the Winter Deaflympics gold medal back on December 21, 2019. It was his second Deaflympics gold medal, his third international gold overall won as a coach.

Zimmerman’s fifth international team, it became the first to win a world championship and Deaflympics consecutively.

“The kids wanted to make history but we had to work for it,” Zimmerman said.

In the team’s first game of the 19th Winter Deaflympics, which was held in the Sondrio Province in Northern Italy, the team came away with a 6-2 victory over Finland. The US went on to win its next two games (14-0 over Kazakhstan and 7-3 over Russia) before falling to Canada 4-1. However, the US and Canada faced each other again in the gold medal contest.

“We weren’t use to Canada’s speed so they came right at us. We gave up two power play goals and a short-handed goal (in the loss). But we had less than 24 hours to play them again,” began Zimmerman. “The kids found a way to erase it from their minds.”

Canada scored first, taking the one goal lead into the second period. But the US got four second period goals, all in a over a 10-minute span and then opened the third period with three more consecutive goals to beat the Canadians 7-3 to capture the gold.

The US outshot Canada 37-30 and was 3-for-8 in power play opportunities.

“We played in front of about 15,000 people, in an open arena. It was a different rink, we never played in a rink like that. It was cold,” Zimmerman said. But the openness of the arena ended up playing towards the US advantage.

“We had a lot of speed and the ice was very fast so it helped us.”

As a nation, the US finished the Winter Deaflympics with three gold medals, six medals overall.

“I was happy for the kids,” Zimmerman continued. “The same thing happened in Buffalo.”

Buffalo — Amherst, New York to be exact — was the host city of the 2017 World Deaf hockey championships. The US and Canada played each other twice, once in pool play and then again in the championship game with the same result as with what went down in Italy.

Zimmerman who coached in Devils Lake for six years before stepping down due to health concerns, hopes to continue being part of the national team when they travel to Vancouver for the World Championships in 2021 and then to the 2023 Deaflympics in Quebec City.

Chris Harris can be reached at charris@devilslakejournal.com.