London Knights head coach Dale Hunter has hit 700 career wins
When Dale Hunter began his coaching career, hockey was a very different game.
There was a red line. Games could end in a tie. If you flipped a puck into the crowd, no one gave you a penalty. There were fights.
The first three things on that list are long gone and fighting is as rare as an uncongested trek down the 401.
To survive in an ever-evolving climate like that can be difficult. To succeed in it is virtually impossible.
With his 700th regular season victory on Saturday night against the North Bay Battalion, Dale Hunter reached yet another career milestone faster than any other coach who has stood behind an Ontario Hockey League bench.
He was the fastest to 500 wins. He was the fastest to 600 wins. He was the fastest to 700 as well.
But all Dale Hunter seems to feel, is fortunate.
“You have to be lucky to be involved in sport this long. All my life I have been involved in hockey, both playing and coaching and you enjoy coming to the rink when you have a great job like that.”
Hunter played 19 seasons in the National Hockey League. He has now coached for close to 16 seasons in the NHL and OHL and his impact on the game has been felt in much the same way whether he is wearing skates or working a video session.
Dale Hunter does the little things that it takes for his teams to win games.
When he played, he scored goals and picked up points. Some of those goals were massive, clutch goals. There was an overtime series winner against the Montreal Canadiens in the 1982 playoffs when he was playing with the Quebec Nordiques. There was the Game 7 breakaway goal against Ron Hextall that put the Washington Capitals past the Philadelphia Flyers in 1988.
But those were just the things that can be measured. Much of Hunter’s genius comes in the unmeasurable. He reads people. He can tell very quickly what makes them tick. And then he has the ability to affect that ticking.
As a player, he was a master of throwing opponents off their game.
As a coach, he is a master of getting the most out of a player in a game.
When Dale Hunter began coaching the London Knights in 2002, he had very little experience.
“I just tried to remember what I didn’t like about all my coaches. Things that annoyed players. I decided I wouldn’t do any of that.”
As a player, Hunter never backed down from anyone and there always seems to be a perception that he is a fiery coach, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, there is one thing he has stuck to throughout his time behind the bench.
“I don’t address a team after any game, good or bad because you are in the heat of the action. When you go and watch the video, most of the time you realize, we weren’t that bad. I always wait until the next day.”
And that next day will almost always include a very instructional video session. You could combine those sessions throughout a year and come up with a Masters-style course in successful coaching.
His teams are more families than collections of players with sticks and helmets. In a way that fits, because Hunter’s coaching career was born out of a family decision, not long after he and his brother, Mark Hunter, purchased the Knights in 2000.
”We were in the London Ice House at the time,” remembers Hunter. “Mark had some young kids at the time, younger than mine and it worked out better to have him manage and run the building and suddenly I had a full-time coaching job.”
Hunter has been named coach of the year in the OHL three times. He has led his team to two Memorial Cup championships and the Knights have won four league championships during his tenure as well. He now trails only Brian Kilrea (1193 wins) and the late Bert Templeton (907 wins) on the all-time list in the OHL.
And his legacy continues to unfold. Some of his former players have already finished out careers in the NHL, but others continue to flow into that league. Major junior teams should have an average of seven or eight of their former players in the NHL at any given time. By the numbers, that is how many graduate and reach the highest level. At the start of the 2017-18 season, there were 28 former London Knights on National Hockey League rosters.
And Hunter points out that the list of success stories doesn’t just flow into the NHL.
“It is interesting to follow along every night. Some are in the American Hockey League, some are in Europe, some are in University. We’re proud of all of the kids who came through here and committed to the Knights with hockey and without hockey.”
That pride is being reciprocated by everyone Hunter has come in to contact with behind the bench as Dale Hunter has reached yet another milestone.
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