Dale Hunter’s life now a tale of two cities
“I know that Dale, at least in the time that I’ve known him, he always had his sights on wanting to go to the National Hockey League and win a Stanley Cup as a coach,” Donskov said. “He gave up a lot here, but at the same time it was a tremendous opportunity for him and something he wanted to dive into head-first and make a big impact.”
The Caps would need to make an improbable playoff run to give Hunter the satisfying completion of a quest he began as an NHL rookie in 1980. Entering Thursday’s game at the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps were 25-21-5 since Hunter took over, and the playoffs are not certain with eight games left.
It would make for a fun enough spring in Washington that extra help with the crops could wait.
‘No one will know’
As Caps owner Ted Leonsis correctly pointed out, Hunter is a man of few words, especially when asked if he has given any thought to the possibility of returning to London as early as this offseason.
“It’s like everything. You’re here. You’re here to win. Whatever happens in the future happens. You know that,” Hunter said. “That’s the hockey way it should always be. It’s like a hockey player. I’m going to play and play my darndest until someone says no, right?”
There are a lot of different scenarios that could unfold, not the least of which is the difference between the Caps making or missing the playoffs. Assuming McPhee is still making the calls and welcomes him back, as he has said he would do, it’s all up to Hunter.
Ever-focused on his job, like his brother, Mark Hunter said he hasn’t really thought ahead to whether he’ll keep coaching the Knights beyond this season.
“We’ll just wait and see how we do in the playoffs and I’ll react to that,” he said. “His focus is on getting the Caps in the playoffs right now, and our focus is hopefully winning in the playoffs.”
Observers around London are split as to whether they think Hunter will return. It’s a cushy safety net if he wants it, but one year with the Caps and back would likely hamper the chances of him getting another NHL job.
The “Godfather of Sports” Pete James, a sports radio and TV personality in London since 1955, has seen plenty of coaches come and go from the junior ranks. He pointed to Brian Kilrea, the winningest coach in Canadian Hockey League history, who spent two years in the NHL as a New York Islanders assistant before returning to juniors because his passion was teaching children.
“Whether it’s Dale’s [path] or not, time alone will tell. … All I can say is this: He’s an excellent teacher. And he’s taught an awful lot of kids how to play this game, obviously, to get them to where they are now,” James said. “It wouldn’t surprise me one way or another.”
Dylan Hunter acknowledged he had an “inkling” when his dad was on the way out. But nothing more than that. And if his departure was any indication, Dale Hunter’s decision won’t be public knowledge until he wants it to be.
“That’s one of the Hunter qualities: Nothing ever leaks out,” Knights radio color analyst Jim Van Horne said. “There’s an inner circle there that’s pretty tight and when it happens it happens, and no one will know before.”
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