NHL: Catching Up With Former Washington Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 22:  Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter directs his team against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on January 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Dale Hunter is running out of fresh means of describing the same old story he has been penning with the London Knights these last two months.

The media’s drawback, however, is his fans’ blessing as the Knights approach history in the Ontario Hockey League and have already emboldened a unique calendar year for their coach.

With Saturday’s 4-2 triumph over the Plymouth Whalers, the Knights have nabbed 23 consecutive wins, three shy of the OHL record set by the Kitchener Rangers in 1984. With only Monday’s visit to the Sarnia Sting still to come, teams coached by Hunter have gone a cumulative 60-29-8 in 2012.

That includes London’s 31-5-2 start to this season, along with the Washington Capitals’ 22-17-6 homestretch and 7-7 run through the first half of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season.

“It’s been good,” Hunter offered Saturday at Plymouth’s Compuware Arena. “Both teams. I enjoyed coaching Washington and I enjoy coaching London.”

Hunter, who had been tutoring the Knights since the middle of the 2001-02 season, assumed the Capitals’ post on Nov. 28, 2011 after four-year NHL veteran Bruce Boudreau was canned.

With that, the franchise that had employed him for a little less than 12 full years and 872 games as a player brought back a fan-favorite.

Given the timing of his introduction, the new Hunter era in Washington did not start to take serious shape until around the time the calendar Zamboni was razing 2011 in favor of 2012. The now-fading year began on Jan. 3 with a 3-1 win over Calgary, the Caps’ fourth straight victory.

Ultimately salvaging the seventh playoff spot, the Capitals introduced goaltender Braden Holtby to infinite new households while winning a first-round arm-wrestling bout with the Boston Bruins. Holtby and his skating mates prevailed in four out of seven straight one-goal decisions, including a Game 7 overtime triumph to derail the defending champions.

They nearly reran the feat in a similarly competitive second-round series against the top-seeded New York Rangers, who prevailed in the rubber game, 2-1, on May 12.

Barely 36 hours later, on the morning of May 14, Hunter declared his desire to return to London, where in his absence the Knights had clinched the OHL playoff title the preceding Friday.

He easily could have returned to pursue unfinished business with his professional team and chase more glamour in the NHL’s ice mansions. Instead, he opted to return to the more familiar place in his “family business,” as he phrased it at the time to the London Free Press.

So far, that is looking like a pristinely prudent choice by all accounts.

Due to the ongoing NHL lockout, the replenished Capitals have yet to be given a chance to pick up where they left off. Hunter, however, has found his Knights virtually the way he had left them for six months with his brother and interim substitute, Mark.

Since Hunter’s first full season in 2002-03, the Knights have posted winning records and been to nine straight postseasons, including three finals appearances and two titles.

Now, with more attention from NHL fans inevitably coming to leagues of all lower levels, they are composing one of the best stories to divert the attention of anguished puckheads and keep the sport at large in a positive light.

With the memories he has already sculpted, Hunter knows not to savor too much, but does acknowledge the fundamental meaning of the streak to his franchise.

“It’s a goal and you want to achieve goals,” he said Saturday.

His working sabbatical in Washington may be over, but it is safe to assume the former Capitals captain and coach will keep tabs on his favorite NHL team. He indicated as much this past May when he told the Washington hockey media: “I enjoyed coaching these guys here and being back with the team that I always figured … is my team.”

Once they are given the green light to return, the Caps shall look to new skipper Adam Oates, one of Hunter’s colleagues on the only team in Washington history to reach a Stanley Cup Final in 1998.

What are Hunter’s two cents? Or, rather, two sentences?

“Adam’s a good guy. He’ll be a good coach.”

Based on the numbers in London’s win, streak and past 10 games columns, it takes one to know one. 


Al Daniel is an NHL Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. All quotes for this story were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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