When hockey fans think of Dale Hunter the player, two images come to mind: His series-clinching goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1988 and his post-whistle hit on Pierre Turgeon of the New York Islanders in 1993. Turgeon had just beaten Don Beaupre for the Islanders‘ fifth goal in Game 6, a goal that essentially eliminated the Caps from the playoffs, when Hunter blindsided him with a hit during the celebration.
Turgeon missed the first six games of the Islanders‘ next series with a separated shoulder, and Hunter was suspended the first 21 games of the 1993-94 season for the incident. At that time, it was the longest suspension ever handed out by the NHL.
But now, more than 18 years later, the man on the wrong side of the hit said he has moved on and hopes his old adversary succeeds as Caps coach.
“That situation could’ve been a little different, but those things happen, and it happened. Then you move on. There’s no grudge. I’m not holding anything against Dale,” Turgeon said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in Colorado. “The only thing I could say is I wish him the best with Washington.”
Turgeon kept playing even longer than Hunter, retiring in September 2007 after 19 NHL seasons and 1,327 career points. He said he hadn’t talked to Hunter about the play since a conversation two days afterward.
At the time, it was a scary situation. Caps color analyst Craig Laughlin recalled wondering if the Caps were going to be able to get out of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum without physical harm amid the intense reaction from the Islanders and their fans.
“It was like one of those crazy wrestling matches,” Laughlin said. “And I remember the bus — we got pelted with rocks. We got pushed. It was like a scene from ‘Slap Shot.’ “
At the time, Hunter said he was “just trying to finish my check. … I’m sorry he got hurt. I’d take it back if I could.”
Turgeon, now 42, prefers to think about those 1993 playoffs for what the Islanders were able to accomplish, reaching the Wales Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Montreal Canadiens.
“We had such a great year, a great playoff run,” Turgeon said. “Obviously the Dale Hunter situation was there. But at the same time, everything we did that year and the chemistry we had in the locker room and how close we were as a team was a lot of fun.”
Turgeon’s job now is as an assistant coach for his 15-year-old son, Dominic, with the Colorado Thunderbirds hockey team, and he spends time watching his 19-year-old daughter, Alexandra, play volleyball at University of Denver and his 13-year-old daughter, Valerie, play hockey for Colorado Select. His 18-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was killed in a car accident in December 2010.
That tragedy has led Turgeon to reassess priorities and spend more time with his family.
“I follow my kids everywhere,” he said. “I think I’m busier now than when I played.”
All of that has contributed, along with time, to Turgeon putting the incident with Hunter well into his past.
“There’s a lot more important things in my life right now,” Turgeon said. “We’ve been through a lot with our family, and there’s things that you just move on with your life.”
Of course it’s hard to go far without seeing the hit, but that doesn’t seem to bother Turgeon.
“Obviously you see it everywhere. You go on YouTube, you see it,” he said. “It’s all right.”
Now that Hunter has moved from junior hockey coach back to the NHL in a coaching capacity with the Caps, Turgeon’s feelings toward him are all positive. That includes his prediction for how Hunter will do behind the bench.
“I’ve got the feeling he’s going to do very well. He’s been around hockey and he’s got a good hockey head,” Turgeon said. “I have no doubt he’s going to do well.”