By Terry Doyle
It’s not often that a hockey team is able to add someone to the roster heading into the MasterCard Memorial Cup, but the London Knights made a last-minute addition with years of experience. Team President and former Coach Dale Hunter re-joined the Knights after they won the OHL Championship.
Hunter, 51, has been watching tournament games from the pressbox. He also works with the coaching staff on preparation and participates in intermission discussions. After guiding the Washington Capitals to the second round of the NHL playoffs, Hunter resigned his coaching position shortly after the team was eliminated – announcing a return to the Knights.
“It was a tough decision, I thought it over. I think it’s the right decision to come back home,” said Hunter. “I could have stay there and coached. I decided to come back. I enjoy it here, and I enjoyed it there. I weighed it more with family and family businesses we all work together here.”
Hunter was named Coach of the Washington Capitals on November 28th, and posted a 30-23-7 record during the regular season. But it was the team’s playoff performance that made headlines as the Capitals knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins before falling in Game Seven to the Conference leading New York Rangers.
“To coach in the National Hockey League is a privilege. There are only 30 head coaches in the NHL. As a coach you’re lucky to coach skilled players and top-end players like (Vladislav Namestnikov) for this level and (Alexander Ovechkin) for that level.”
While Hunter likes to use the line “It’s Hockey” when discussing many things that happen in and around the game, there are subtle differences dealing with junior players versus those in the NHL.
“Communication, it’s the same – they’re hockey players. They want direction from the coach and you give direction to the pros and you give direction for junior,” said Hunter. “The biggest difference is the practice time. In junior you basically play on the weekends, because the kids go to school. But the pros, you have more travel; you practice less and do more video because of the travel time. In junior… you have more practice time to teach the young kids and longer practices. They’re young, they’re learning, you’re more of a teacher. Coaching in the National Hockey League you’re more steering.”
While Dale was in Washington, brother Mark added Head Coach to his Knights General Manager duties for the remainder of the season and playoffs. The move appeared seamless, with the club going 29-13 for the rest of the season and winning the Ontario Hockey League Championship.
“(Mark and Dale) have been working together for a long time so I think they’ve got similar ideas of what they want out there,” said sophomore forward Chris Tierney. “Practices were basically the same, and basically the same message – same style of play we were playing out there.”
With all of their focus on trying to capture the Memorial Cup, the Hunters say they’ll talk in the off-season about who will assume what role this fall.
“It’s ideal where one of us can coach and one of us can recruit players,” added Dale. “It is fun trying to see these players, you see them at 15 and then you try and project them at 19. It’s always a challenge that’s what makes junior hockey great.”