Nobody in the Ontario Hockey League has been better in the faceoff circle this season than Nathan Dunkley of the London Knights.
“I think by now I’ve just been in the league awhile so I know the top faceoff guys,” Dunkley says. “I know some of the things they like to do and you try to react to that.”
Dunkley is followed closely by Billy Moskal (3rd) and Matvey Guskov (5th) at the very top of the list of players who have taken at least 150 draws.
Faceoffs have long been a fixture of focus for the Knights. During head coach Dale Hunter’s 19-year National Hockey League career he was always one of the best. He used any trick and tactic available to get an added advantage.
Hunter was known to skate into the circle and greet his opponent with a little something like, “I don’t know if you saw what happened last time I took a faceoff but my stick accidentally came up and hit the other guy under his chin.” Hunter would flash a cheeky smile and finish with, “I really hope that doesn’t happen this time.”
Faceoffs are a chess match without the checkered board and the sculpted pieces.
They happen so quickly that they seem to resemble a coin flip more than they do the contest of multiple movements that they actually are.
“You have to out-think the other guy. It starts static. It starts from scratch,” says London assistant coach Dylan Hunter, who was always an elite draw-taker as a player. “Both of you have an equal chance to win it but only one of you is going to. You have to figure out what is going to give you the edge.”
Ontario Hockey League ranking: 1st
Faceoff record through 20 games: 141-88
Overall winning percentage: 62.4%
Dylan Hunter’s evaluation: “He is maddening to take draws against. He is tricky. He’ll do it one way and just when you think you have him figured out, he’ll do something really different.”
Dunkley’s strategy: “You have to change up what you are doing. Guys are too good and they’ll catch on to you especially if you are going against the same centreman all night.”
Ontario Hockey League ranking: 3rd
Faceoff record through 20 games: 341-209
Overall winning percentage: 61.3%
Dylan Hunter’s evaluation: “Billy is a hybrid. He works hard and he’s creative. He finds ways to hit your wrists and gets your hands so that by the end of the game you are bruised up and you choke up on your stick to try to protect yourself.”
Moskal’s strategy: It’s all about confidence. You just have to own the dot.”
Ontario Hockey League ranking: 5th
Faceoff record through 20 games: 241-143
Overall winning percentage: 59.3%
Dylan Hunter’s evaluation: “He’s powerful. He gets low like Bo Horvat and kind of crowds the plate.”
Guskov’s strategy: “You have to use everything you have. Strength especially. You have to remember every guy who you go against and what he does. You want to think about what he can’t do.”
This year Connor McMichael’s resume contains all kinds of successful lines that tend to push his faceoff success down the list but he is winning draws at a 59.3 per cent rate. Jonathan Gruden isn’t far behind either.
If you do the math, that is five capable players at the dot or in the circle in a game that only requires you to have one for each of four forward lines.
Dylan Hunter talks about the possession aspect of faceoffs but admits they also have a bit of a hidden value.
“You can be having what you feel is the worst game ever but if you are winning in the faceoff circle it gives you something (that you are doing well) and things can build from there for you.”