This week Paul Balm pays tribute to the departing David Ling
It was all going so well. A come from behind win against the Clan followed by an excellent third period in Dundee meant that everything, for once, was happy in Panthers Nation . It didn’t last very long did it? Within what felt like minutes all that good humour came crashing down round our ears closely followed by the Panthers’ website. David Ling was leaving the club with immediate effect due to family reasons.
There’s no other way to describe this announcement than as a massive hammer blow. Not to our league challenge, that’s already in pieces anyway but to our chances of picking up any silverware at all this season. A huge amount of creativity has been lost from our team with his departure. You only had to watch how he could thread the eye of a needle with a pass that at times seemed to be almost too good for his line-mates to handle to see that. A lot has been made of how he always had enough room to make those passes and those people doing that are right to but for me it was always about how he made sure he had that space. He has the ability to slow a game down to his pace, he did it time and time again this season, and the special awareness to always know where his team mates were. Add to that the fact that a lot of the time defenders would back away from him worried, I’m guessing, of what he could do if they over committed and he’s created that room he needed for that killer pass or shot.
So David Ling was (and I think at the age of 41 this is likely to mark the end of the career but with Ling who knows) a great player, an insightful playmaker and scorer of the odd goal but he was more than that. He was (actually, in this case it is the better word) a character in a time when that trait is disappearing in ice hockey and sport in general. Wonder what I mean? I can sum it up in two words – water skiing. Is there a fan in all of the UK who hasn’t seen that clip? It wasn’t like that was the only time though. I remember a game early in the grand slam season in Coventry and the Blaze fans behind our bench were being their usual vociferous selves. Every player on the bench ignored them. Every player that is except David Ling who was merrily chirping back at the comments.
He really was the arch-chirper. At times he looked like he was never happier when he was chirping someone. I’ve lost count of the players I’ve seen him wind up while he seemed to stay completely calm just out of harms reach through the insults that got them so hot under the collar. Look at Saturday night, he had plenty to say to Stefan Meyer as he was escorted off the ice to the point that you saw Meyer turn towards him, start to react to something Ling said and then think better of it.
He truly was (sorry is) the master of the one liner. If you watch the interview we did back in 2013 with Gary Moran you can hear Ling shouting to him in the background purely, it seemed, for no other reason than to put him off. Gary told us a story about how Capital FM were running a competition to win Panthers tickets where you had to guess what was in a box just by the noise it made when you shook it. Someone apparently said it was Ling’s book of chirps but according to Gary there was no way that the box or any other was big enough for that. He also told another, less savoury suggestion, about one of Ling’s team-mates that I’m not repeating here.
This isn’t a one sided eulogy though. He had his flaws as a player. It could be argued he could be lazy. And whilst it’s fair to say he wasn’t ever going to be a called an all-round two way player I prefer to think he was utilizing his talents and resources better by keeping out of the defence’s way and to use that time to prepare himself for the counter attack. If you listened to the podcasts last week you’ll know that we named him the dirtiest player in the league. He had that side to his game – the digs the niggles, the cheeky drink from the opposition netminder’s water bottle without ever losing eye contact were all there to wind up the opposing team. He could fight as well, anyone who saw what he did to Lovdahl in Hull or Hayes in Edinburgh this season would agree with that.
Put all those things together – the playing ability, the chirping, the sly niggling and you’ve got a player that it must have been horrible to play against and I bet that there are nine teams out there that are happy that he’s left. I’m not. The news last night made me feel like someone had slapped the glass out of my hand as I was about to take the first well earned swig of the first pint of the weekend after the week from hell. Having said all that I understand why he feels he has to go. I’d do exactly the same in his situation. Your family always comes first and it’s events like this that remind you that there are some things that are more important than ice hockey.
At least he left us on a high (sort of). I think we saw the best weekend from him in this second spell over the last couple of days. A seven point haul from two games isn’t bad for someone people were happy to dismiss on his return as past it, too old, not as good as before etc. Maybe he wasn’t as good as before, he was a bit slower but still knew how to make himself room. It’s a shame that his last act was to get thrown out for a slash but that’s Ling for you and given that we’ve since found out he announced his intention to leave to his team mates in the dressing room after the game he was probably just making sure he had time to prepare himself and work out the best way to get their attention.
The one, final, abiding memory I have of David Ling is from the night we won the league. He was in Rockies and a little the worse for wear. I thanked him for winning the league and he said “no, thank you”. I said that I hadn’t really done anything to which he replied “Yes you have, you guys keep turning up and cheering us on”. Whether he’s right or not I don’t know, I’m just glad I had the chance to cheer him on.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulba