LONDON, Ontario — Summertime at the John Labatt Centre isn't about hockey. It's about monster truck shows, concerts and other events that don't require ice.
But when the rink is filled back up in September as the London Knights prepare for their next season, they're joined by plenty of alumni and local players. Dale and Mark Hunter give the alums and others use of the ice and facility to get ready for their own training camps in the NHL, American Hockey League or Europe.
"I believe in history, and the players that play for us see how we treat the guys in the past that worked hard for us and did what they had for the London Knights to win and we still reward them for it," Dale Hunter said
It's an extension of the family aspect of the Knights and benefits the next generation of guys who hope to win in juniors and move on to play professionally.
"The parents and the kids trying out for the team can watch us as products. The majority of us are products of the London Knights that have come through and we've gone on to play professionally," said Danny Syvret, the captain of the 2005 Memorial Cup team and coordinator of the pro skates. "I think that's the cool thing. If I was a young kid coming into an OHL organization and there's reigning MVP Corey Perry and Drew Doughty [and other] pretty high-name players on the ice in London, it's sort of a cool first experience."
Doughty didn't play for the Knights, and neither did San Jose Sharks All-Star Logan Couture, St. Louis Blues forward Andy McDonald and Hershey Bears defenseman Patrick McNeill. But they still spend their fall with Syvret, Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers forward Brandon Prust, Florida Panthers tough guy Krys Barch and others on the ice at John Labatt Centre.
They get to enjoy time in London and give something back to the Knights as examples.
"It shows how much they appreciate London because they still come out and teach the kids," said Dylan Hunter, Dale's son who serves as an assistant coach.
Said Mark Hunter: "It helps them out and helps our older guys out. But we enjoy it too. We enjoy them being around and us being around to talk to them and see how they're doing in the past years."
Dale and Mark Hunter have an open-door policy for alumni that includes September ice and free tickets to any game they call up and ask about.
"Dale's always been good to us in that regard," Syvret said. "He cares about every player that's come through, whether it be a player that moved on to play professionally or a player that moved on in his career in a different aspect."
These guys hold a special place in London and for the Hunters, especially those like Syvret. Perry and Prust, who were part of the franchise's first Memorial Cup team in 2005.
But even those who didn't are welcomed back anytime, especially in September for the pro skates that cultivate the continuation of Knights tradition.
"I think those kinds of things really keep the organization close over the years," ex-assistant general manager Jim McKellar said. "Every new kid meets the old stars that used to play for the Knights. Those kind of activities really, really promote the club but also the camaraderie amongst those who have played for the team."
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