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Dale Hunter’s life now a tale of two cities
“Yeah I was, but I also know him and George McPhee are good buddies, you know? Him and George always got along good and George is a heck of a guy,” Dick Hunter said. “I don’t think he would’ve went [to] any other place. But George gave him the call and that was it.”
Leaving control of the team in Mark’s hands helped, too. “Seamless” was how many described the transition.
Dale Hunter is plenty busy with the Caps, but he didn’t leave the Knights entirely behind. Mark and Dylan Hunter and Donskov all talk to him multiple times a week, either on the phone or via text message.
“I talk to them every day, and I got the OHL package. If I’m not playing, I watch it,” Hunter said. “I put it on my computer and I watch it at night. If we don’t play on a Friday night, I’ll sit in my room and watch it.”
Dylan noted that helping mold young players into grown men was his dad’s favorite part of the job. Listen to Dale Hunter talk about just one of his former pupils, such as David Bolland, Rick Nash or Corey Perry, and one will realize he cared beyond goals, assists and wins.
“Coaching these kids, you get attached to them,” Hunter said. “I knew [Donskov] was a good guy and I trust him with any kid to make sure he’s taken care of properly, and he does. He makes sure the [host families] are good, the food’s good. So I know they’re taken care of.”
Jim McKellar, who served as the Knights’ assistant general manager for 11 years before taking a job as a Chicago Blackhawks scout, said he couldn’t count how many times Dale and Mark Hunter showed an interest in ex-players’ lives, “whether the player’s a firefighter or he’s a star in the National Hockey League.”
How much Dale Hunter serves as a caring father figure is a departure from his no-nonsense, hard-nosed personality as a player.
“I think once you get to know Dale, you get to know the kind of person he is,” Donskov said. “He cares. He cares about his hockey players, he cares about his family, he cares about his team. He certainly cares about the London Knights.”
Hunter managed to win junior hockey’s Holy Grail, the Memorial Cup, in 2005, but the trophy he referred to on a first-name basis has eluded him.
He played 19 NHL seasons, and 1998 was the closest he got to winning the Stanley Cup, when the Caps were swept in the finals by the Detroit Red Wings. A 1999 trade to the Colorado Avalanche to give him one last shot ended with a seven-game-series loss to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals.
Even as coach of the Knights, he kept a close eye on the Caps, watching just about every game, and kept in touch with McPhee regularly.
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