As Dale Hunter left his post as Washington Capitals coach, one thing was clear: He was going home, back to London, Ontario, and the Knights, the Ontario Hockey League team he co-owns along with his brother Mark.
And to slide totally back into his comfort zone, the final step was for Dale Hunter to return as Knights coach, something that became official Tuesday.
Dick Hunter, the patriarch of the family, said his sons had a good thing going in London, and now it’ll be back to that starting next season.
“Certainly Dale’s passion is coaching,” Knights goaltending coach Bill Dark said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The organization [has] run so smoothly and efficiently over the years with the way it’s been with Dale coaching and Mark as the general manager.”
Dale Hunter spent parts of 11 seasons behind the bench in London before his foray into NHL coaching with the Caps. He captured the Memorial Cup in 2005 and has 451 wins at the OHL level.
When Dale left to try his hand in Washington, Mark led the Knights on a surprising run to the Memorial Cup final.
“Those were not some easy shoes that he had to fill stepping in,” Dark said. “He took over a team that was flying high at the time when Dale left. We kind of always thought we were maybe overachieving. There was always the possibility for the team to go down a little bit, but Mark came in, and I can’t say enough about what a fantastic job Mark did handling coaching the team.”
Because of that, Dale Hunter seemed to leave open the possibility of switching roles with his brother moving forward.
“It’s a family business,” Hunter said last month. “My dad’s 76, and he still scouts for us. He did a great job there. Whatever if I’m looking for players next year, finding new players for the Knights next year, I’ll do anything what’s best for the family business.”
While cultivating that family business, the Hunters also made winning a regularity. Dale became the fastest coach to 300 wins in OHL history, doing so in 460 games, then the fastest to 400 wins, reaching the milestone in 599.
He could build on that total significantly next season, as the Knights will be more experienced and stronger up front with the likes of Max Domi and Bo Horvat being a year older.
“You don’t know how the cards are going to fall in place,” Dark said. “Obviously, things have to fall in place to win a league championship. There aren’t any guarantees on that. We’ll be a real good club again.”
In the short term, Hunter will be at the Caps’ NHL draft table this weekend and should be able to aid in evaluating players.
“Dale obviously has been coaching in the Ontario League for a long time and has got a good knowledge of a lot of those players,” director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said Wednesday. “It’s always nice to have someone who also has a perspective on a lot of those young players either coaching them or he’s been scouting them for London. We try to tap into resources that we have to be able to help us do even better.”
NOTE: Caps assistant Dean Evason was named head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville Predators’ American Hockey League affiliate. Evason spent seven years on staff in Washington, working under Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter.