Hunters en­joy rel­a­tive suc­cess run­ning ju­nior-league Knights

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

LONDON, ON­TARIO | Dale and Mark Hunter didn’t have long to pre­pare for the 2000 On­tario Hockey League draft af­ter buy­ing the London Knights that year. So they went to a tour­na­ment in Toronto, split up to do some scout­ing and re­con­vened to fig­ure out whom to se­lect fourth over­all.

“We said we’ll say it at the same time,” Dale Hunter re­called. “And we both said, ‘Rick Nash.’ “

That the two broth­ers were on the same wave­length then in se­lect­ing the fu­ture NHL su­per­star shouldn’t be a sur­prise. Even now, Dale said he and Mark think the same. They grew the Knights fran­chise over the past 10 years thanks to their shared work

ethic cul­ti­vated grow­ing up on a farm and shared pas­sion for hockey.

As London’s “God­fa­ther of Sports” Pete James, a long­time ra­dio and TV per­son­al­ity, put it, they “farm in the sum­mer and they’re hockey guys in the win­ter, and that’s ex­actly what they do. And they do both pretty well.”

And de­spite Knights goal­tend­ing coach Bill Dark’s quip that “Mark is Dale with­out the hair,” the Hunter broth­ers and co-own­ers are far from mir­ror images of each other.

“It’s funny, Dale is a lit­tle more soft-spo­ken, but one of the most in­tense peo­ple I’ve been around. Mark’s a lit­tle more out­go­ing, speaks his voice a lit­tle more,” said New York Is­lan­ders All-star John Tavares, who played for the Hunters in 2009. “They’re broth­ers, but it was dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. They got along great and made it a lot of fun for us, but chal­lenged us to be bet­ter play­ers and to get bet­ter and have a good team and be suc­cess­ful on the ice.”

From 2001 un­til Novem­ber, Dale served as coach and team pres­i­dent while Mark was gen­eral man­ager and vice pres­i­dent. They have a Me­mo­rial Cup and 12 straight play­off ap­pear­ances to show for it.

“They’ve done pretty well with it. Yeah, they have. They’ve built quite a team here,” their fa­ther, Dick Hunter, said. “They had a good thing go­ing here.”

Mark, who has coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from five sea­sons spent with the Sar­nia Sting, also coached the de­fense­men and skated with the Knights for prac­tices, some­thing that made the regime change easy in Novem­ber when Dale took over be­hind the bench for the Washington Cap­i­tals.

“Mark and dad had their roles for 10 years and they did it to a ‘T.’ So it was a lit­tle bit of a change that way, com­ing to the rink and he wasn’t there,” said Dale’s son Dy­lan, who’s in his sec­ond sea­son as an as­sis­tant coach. “It was a change that way, but it was pretty seam­less. . . . They have the same hockey mind. Ex­act same hockey mind. They like the same things, dis­like the same things, so it was a pretty easy tran­si­tion.”

Dale wouldn’t have it any other way. Build­ing London into a peren­nial con­tender from scratch is some­thing he takes pride in, and hand­ing the reins to his brother al­lowed him to let go and pur­sue the NHL dream that had been swirling as a ru­mor for years.

“I know my brother’s there, and I know it’s in good hands. It was eas­ier for me to leave be­cause I knew he was tak­ing over and it would be sta­tus quo,” Dale said. “I know noth­ing would change, and noth­ing has. We’re still win­ning.”

Dale signed a con­tract with the Caps just through the end of this sea­son, so it’s un­cer­tain how long his brother will re­main as coach. Right now, both men said they’re not think­ing about it.

But don’t think that Dale doesn’t check in with his brother, his son and oth­ers on staff to make sure of that. He has the OHL pack­age on his com­puter to watch Knights games when the Caps aren’t play­ing, and he was in close con­tact with Mark be­fore the trade dead­line.

The Knights have gone 29-13 since Mark re­placed his brother, and they fin­ished first in the Mid­west Di­vi­sion and the Western Con­fer­ence.

Sched­ul­ing Fri­day won’t be in Dale’s fa­vor, as his game against the Win­nipeg Jets co­in­cides with the start of London’s first-round play­off se­ries against the Wind­sor Spit­fires. But he doesn’t have to worry too much about the path of his fran­chise. Staff mem­bers, for­mer play­ers and cur­rent play­ers alike ex­plained that not much has changed from a struc­tural stand­point on the ice and around the team.

“They both hold their play­ers ac­count­able. They both know the game ex­tremely well,” as­sis­tant GM and coach Misha Don­skov said. “They both have the same hockey philoso­phies in terms of sys­tems, in terms of player ex­pec­ta­tions, in terms of hold­ing play­ers ac­count­able.”

Just about ev­ery­one in London who knows the Hunters said Dale is the quiet one. Mark ac­knowl­edged he’s the more emo­tional of the two, some­thing that’s not hard to tell when wit­ness­ing Dale’s some­times cu­ri­ously calm de­meanor with the Caps, a ma­jor de­par­ture from his play­ing days.

But maybe Dale rubbed off on Mark a lit­tle bit, and that has shown in re­cent months.

“There is a lit­tle dif­fer­ence in per­son­al­ity and ap­proach, but I think Mark has de­vel­oped a lot of the best of the qual­i­ties that Dale has,” Knights ra­dio color an­a­lyst Jim Van Horne said. “And Mark now has a sense of calm back there. I find Mark very re­laxed.”

Re­laxed at times, but Mark Hunter isn’t afraid to get on ref­er­ees and make sure coaches and other staff mem­bers do things their way.

“It’s a chal­lenge ev­ery day,” ath­letic ther­a­pist Andy Scott said. “They want what they want, so you’ve got to be on your toes, which is a good thing. Get your job done, and they’re happy.”

That’s not a bad thing. It’s ac­tu­ally part of the rea­son the Knights de­vel­oped into such a model ju­nior fran­chise. Dark said there’s no ques­tion the Hunters are de­mand­ing, but that’s all with the mo­ti­va­tion of get­ting the most out of ev­ery­one.

“It’s Hunter hockey. It’s the Hunter way,” Don­skov said. “They’ve got a recipe for suc­cess, and you’ve got to fol­low it if you want to be part of the team.”

Dale Hunter

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