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Zimmerman coaches US Deaflympics hockey team to another gold medal

The Olympic experience is a goal set by many, but achieved by few. The rush of wearing the red, white, and blue is a lifelong dream.

David Zimmerman, an assistant coach for the USA Deaflympics men’s ice hockey team, has helped coach the Americans to three gold medals: one in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championship and two in the Deaflympics, including the most recent Olympic showcase in 2019 when Team USA defeated Canada 7-3 on Dec. 21.

“I believe we have became the first country to go back to back by winning the World Deaf Hockey championship only to follow it up with the Deaflympics title,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman, born and raised in Minot, is in his 30th year of teaching at the North Dakota School for the Deaf/Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Devils Lake. He also taught gym class at Devils Lake High School while integrating hearing impaired students into regular school classrooms alongside their hearing peers.

Sports wise, Zimmerman was the assistant coach for Devils Lake boys varsity hockey team for nine years, under two separate head coaches, before becoming the head coach for six years himself. Now, he has been involved with coaching five U.S. Olympic teams.

“It feels great to represent Minot, Devils Lake and the state of North Dakota,” Zimmerman said. “Anytime I am selected for an international coaching position, I always feel humbled and honored to represent my country… I am proud of the work that the coaching staff put in place, which showed excellent results in Italy.”

To medal in Italy, the U.S. Deaflympics men’s ice hockey team defeated Finland (6-2), Kazakhstan (14-0) and Russia (7-3) in pool play. They suffered a pool-play lost to Canada 4-1, only to turn around less than 24 hours later to defeat Canada 7-3 in the championship rematch to win the gold medal.

Team USA found a way to play to their strengths while carrying out the game plan set by the coaching staff.

A unique feature for ice hockey in the Deaflympics is that hearing aids and/or cochlear implants can’t be worn during games or between periods. Team USA has two interpreters available to relay messages during play. Zimmerman signs and motions during the game, helping the players understand the designed plays, coverages and schemes on the ice.

For motivation, the coaches told the players that it was up to them what color medal they wanted.

“The path in the gold medal rounds in Chiavenna, (Italy), was similar to our performance in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championship game in Buffalo,” Zimmerman said. “Lose to the opponent in pool play, then beat them when it counted the most.”

The World Deaf Ice Hockey Championship takes place every two years. It will resume competition in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2021 with the international games of the Deaflympics appearing in Quebec in 2024. For more information visit 2019deaflympics.com.

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