A few months ago, when scanning the pregame rosters, a veteran Indy Fuel off-ice official noticed a familiar name suiting up for the Brampton Beast.
“David Ling. I remember him. Does he have a son?”
“No, that’s David Ling. The one who played for the Ice.”
“Seriously? That’s our David Ling?”
Yes, it was David Ling. He was already a veteran of a couple of professional seasons when he joined the Indianapolis Ice as a 23-year-old in 1998. He had just been activated to join the Brampton Beast, who were in town to visit the Indy Fuel.
Now, at age 42, he’s still taking a regular shift and making an impact in pro hockey. He’s in his third season with the Beast, continuing a long hockey career that has seen stops in Indianapolis and elsewhere.
Ling came to the Ice late in the 1997-98 season, bolstering a young lineup as it prepared for the International Hockey League playoffs. Having been better than a point-a-game player over two seasons in the American Hockey League, he was expected to be a team leader. That he was, scoring eight goals and 14 points in 12 games with the Ice. He had four goals in a thrilling five-game series against the Orlando Solar Bears in 1998, including the game-winner in a 4-3 victory in Game 2. The Ice eventually lost the best-of-5 series in a decisive fifth game in Orlando, but he had some fond memories of his time in Indy.
“I loved Indy. I like big cities. We played in the other building (Market Square Arena),” Ling said last week as the Brampton Beast visited the Indy Fuel. “We had a good team. I keep in touch with quite a few guys on social media. It was a fun year of my life. It’s something you look back on. A lot of guys went on to play in the NHL.”
From that team, Todd White played more than 600 NHL games and several other players saw time in the NHL. And Ling himself went on to play 90 more NHL games, all with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Prior to joining the Ice, he also suited up with the Montreal Canadiens for three games. He’s come full-circle in his career, which began in the Canadiens’ organization. Brampton is the Habs’ ECHL affiliate.
Since Ling arrived in Indy in Indy in 1998, the city has been through four franchise in four leagues, and its top-level team has played games in four different venues. The IHL’s Ice transferred to the Central Hockey League a year later, and the IHL itself folded in 2002. Market Square Arena closed in 1999 and was imploded shortly thereafter.
Only he and Daniel Cleary – the veteran Detroit Red Wings forward who is currently on the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins roster – remain from the IHL’s Ice era.
Meanwhile, Ling has been on a substantial hockey odyssey himself. He’s played for Kansas City and Utah in the IHL, Syracuse, St. John’s, Toronto, Oklahoma City and multiple stints in Providence in the AHL, Columbus in the NHL – following up his debut with the Montreal Canadiens prior to joining the Ice. He’s also played in Russia – for two different Moscow-based teams and one in Khabarovsk – as well as Finland, Italy and England. And in 2014-15, he joined the Brampton Beast in the ECHL, and has played with them for parts of the last three seasons. This year, he has eight goals and 16 assists in 23 games as the Beast have become one of the top teams in the league’s Eastern Conference.
“I always joked around when I was in my 20s, I wanted to play until I was 40, and now I’m over 40,” Ling said. “I never had any injuries, so it’s been good with my body,” Ling said. “I’ve never been fast, so I haven’t lost speed because I never had it. I haven’t had to change my game because I had a knee injury and I slowed down (like others). I love playing. I love the game.”
A native of Nova Scotia, Ling lives near Toronto – close to Brampton. In 2014-15, he joined the team mid-season, and has done so for each of the next two seasons. He played a little bit of senior hockey this season in Stoney Creek, Ontario. He and Beast coach Colin Chaulk – another IHL veteran whose number was retired in Fort Wayne last week – were junior teammates on the OHL’s Kinsgston Frontenacs. He was playing senior hockey in Ontario before joining the Beast.
“They lost a vet and needed a guy,” Ling said. “I love playing. I’m situated there where I’m easy to get a hold of. I played with Chaulker in junior, and we have a relationship. It’s fun.”
He joked his role with the Beast is to “tell them some stories from the old days.” While he provides veteran leadership, he said his role is to complement the team leaders and do what they want him to do. But that hasn’t changed from his early days. When he played for the Ice, he was known both as a scorer and a feisty, physical player. He scored six goals in his first four games with the Ice, but also wasn’t afraid to mix it up. Then-Ice coach Bob Ferguson told the Indianapolis Star’s John Bansch, “no one intimidates him.”
“I was always pushed to a veteran role early in my career, maybe because I stuck up for guys on the ice,” Ling said. “I haven’t had much changing – I still feel like I’m 25 in my mind.”
He’s enjoyed playing with a Beast team that has quickly become one of the ECHL’s contenders in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve got some guys back from injuries, we have a system put in place, and we’re starting to pull together and play as a team,” Ling said. “We were in a rough spot early, but in the last 10 games, we’ve been coming along and moving forward.”
After several years in North America, split between the AHL and the Columbus Blue Jackets, he went to Russia during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and played with Spartak Moscow. He then spent much of the next decade in Europe, while returning to North America to play a couple of stints in the AHL.
He has played 1,324 professional games, tallying 387 goals and 1,111 points, as well as 2,883 penalty minutes. He has 683 points in 791 games in the IHL and AHL, as well as eight points in 93 NHL games. He also has 72 points in 95 ECHL games over the past three seasons with Brampton.
While many note there’s a significant adjustment between North American and European hockey – the rink is 15 feet wider in Europe and the styles of play can be different – he adjusted quickly. One reason was because of his offensive skill.
“Because I was getting power play time, I found it easier to adjust,” Ling said. “I was always was put on the power play, which helps with your points, your confidence and your contracts the next year. I was fortunate enough to play on teams where I did get to play on the power play.”
So, how long will the career for one of the last IHL players to remain active in pro hockey continue?
“I always say this is it, but it’s never it,” Ling said. “So who knows.”