6 members of London Knights help Canada bring home gold, including Dale and Mark Hunter

The six members of the London Knights pose for a picture together moments after winning the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Jan. 5, 2020. 980 CFPL

They have done it for just over two decades with the London Knights.

They have created quite the system: identify talent and develop it into something special.

It has brought them multiple regular-season league titles, four Ontario Hockey League championships, two Memorial Cup championships and a nod as the Team of the Century for their Knights squad of 2005.

And now, Mark and Dale Hunter have accomplished the greatest feat in junior hockey on its largest international stage. On  Sunday, with the reins of Team Canada in their hands, one of the most successful brother duos in the game captured gold at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship.

On the ice during the celebrations, Mark smiled. Dale had that familiar gleam in his eyes.

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READ MORE: Canada comes from behind to beat Russia and win World Junior Hockey Championship

Ask either of them what was going through their minds at that exact moment and you would get the answer that both have used at similar moments in the past.

“We’re proud of our boys.”

Making it even more special was the fact that six members of the London Knights family were part of Team Canada. Liam Foudy and Connor McMichael were huge contributors on the ice with a combined eight goals and 11 points. Equipment manager Chris Maton and head of security Bob Martin were huge contributors off the ice.

There was a lot to be proud of overall in Team Canada’s second go-around against Russia in this year’s World Junior tournament in the Czech Republic, coming back to win 4-3.

It started with captain Barrett Hayton, who was playing with what was later reported as a first-degree shoulder separation that he suffered late in Canada’s 5-0 semi-final. Hayton not only played through the pain of that injury, he also scored a game-tying goal on a razor-sharp wrist shot with 8:39 remaining in regulation time.

There were big blocked shots from veterans like Aidan Dudas, Akil Thomas and Jared McIsaac, and even by 17-year-old Jamie Drysdale. Shots that hobbled or hurt each of them. Guys like Dylan Cozens and Ty Dellandrea and others took big hits to make plays.

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As Dale and Mark Hunter have done with the Knights, they galvanized a team and set sights on a single goal and then achieved it.

“At this level, everybody is sacrificing to keep the puck out of the net,” said Dale Hunter. “That’s why you see upsets [in the tournament] because everybody is laying it all on the line.”

Hunter admits that it is quite something to watch the commitment level on the ice.

“It comes down to this being a short tournament. It would be tough to play like that all year, but in the short term they can.”

And they did.

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There were difficult decisions from Day 1.

The biggest was in net. General Manager Mark Hunter elected to go with two goaltenders who had never played for Canada before in Nico Daws and Joel Hofer.

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Daws entered Canada’s camp as one of the best goaltending stories in major junior hockey this year and Hofer became one of the best stories of the World Junior tournament.

Hofer entered the Canadian goal in the 6-0 loss to Russia in the round-robin and never relinquished the crease.

That defeat at the hands of the Russians was a tough one. It might have caused some teams to crumble.

For Canada, it became a rallying point.

It also allowed a Dale Hunter mantra to come to the forefront.

“The players re-adapted their style to defence-first,” points out Dale Hunter. “Offence will come if you play good defence.”

From that point, Team Canada outscored their opponents 26-7 but they seemed to get better and better every game.

“We want[ed] to have a team with speed and skill,” said Mark Hunter.

Those characteristics were shown off time and again on Canada’s road to gold. From the go-ahead goal by Alexis Lafreniere in their first game against the United States to their last go-ahead goal by Akil Thomas with under four minutes remaining against Russia on Sunday.

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READ MORE: Liam Foudy and Connor McMichael of the London Knights will play for Team Canada

Speed made a difference. Skill made a difference. So did goaltending, defence and coaching.

Bring all of that together and add in one other key element that Mark Hunter knew Canada needed to have to give themselves a chance to win.

“As we all know, you need the will.”

That’s something that Mark and Dale Hunter have plenty of and it is something present in their most special and successful teams.

You can add Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning entry in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship to that list.

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