Dale Hunter as a player, simply, was the very definition of agitator. The only man in the storied history of this league to record 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes, he always gave as good as he got. Hunter played 19 seasons in this league for three teams, but he’s synonymous with the Washington Capitals. He’s on the Caps’ Mount Rushmore, with Rod Langway, Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig.
And now, he’s back.
Hired to be the bench coach after the dismissal of Bruce Boudreau, Hunter will take the reigns of the team he never really left. He admitted in his press conference today that since he retired from the league, he would tape each of the Caps games and watch them, either at home after his own game with the London Knights, or more often, on the team bus as they moved through
Quebec Ontario Province from game to game in the OHL.
“I’ve been cheering for the Caps since I left here,” Hunter said in his first address to the D.C. media. “It’s always been that way.” Often the sentimental favorite to someday be the man behind the Caps bench, someday started yesterday.
General Manager George McPhee was asked what traits Hunter would bring with him from London, Ont. to the spotlight in the District.
“Hopefully [he brings] the same things that he brought as a player,” McPhee said. “Obviously Dale was an intelligent player, he had talent, and he was tough. And he was downright mean sometimes. We probably won’t see a player like that again for a while. You don’t see numbers like the numbers he’s had. But he played 19 years in this League, and I think the best thing you could ever say about Dale Hunter was, whether the game was at home or away or whether he was injured or healthy or whether we were winning or losing, that guy played the same way every night — and it was hard.”
Hunter agreed that you won’t see his type of player in the league anymore. “There’s too many referees out there now. There’s an extra one.”
Having watched Hunter’s entire playing tenure with this organization, I can tell you emphatically that if Hunter decides that one of his players is not playing hard, he won’t be playing for him very much longer — someone else will. Hunter epitomized those ’80′s teams in D.C., those hard workers that maybe weren’t as skilled as their opponents, but would bring their lunchpails every day and put a full, honest effort every time they took the ice.
Hunter. Kelly Miller. Scott Stevens. Mike Ridley. If you’ve been a fan of this team longer than the four years Boudreau was the coach, these names are familiar as family. If you’re a new-comer, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about these gentlemen in the coming days, weeks and months of Dale Hunter’s second career with the Washington Capitals.
“This is the only team he’s ever wanted to coach,” McPhee said of Hunter. “He’s had opportunities with other teams, but this is the one he’s wanted to coach. And we’ve talked consistently over 12 years; I was always hoping that one day Dale could coach this team. But timing’s everything, and the time is right now.”
Hunter concurred when he spoke two hours after McPhee. “This has been my team — I shouldn’t say my team, it’s Ted [Leonsis'] team — but it feels like my team because I played here so long and had good memories here. As far as ‘Why now?’, my kids are grown up. When they were younger it’s a little tougher to coach since you spend so much time [away]. This way I can make a full commitment and spend hours trying to win hockey games.”
Hunter, who was one of — if not the — hardest workers in the game when he was on the ice, stated in no uncertain terms how his team was going to compete. “We going to be a hard team to play against. We’re going to be on the puck hard, forecheck hard, really responsible defensively. Backside pressure coming back through the neutral zone. I don’t believe in run-and-gun hockey.”
McPhee faced questions about Hunter’s lack of NHL coaching experience, despite over 400 wins at the OHL level. “As I’ve said before, coaching’s coaching, and he’s been coaching at a good level and at a high level. The same questions were asked of Bruce when he came here, and he had an outstanding record. The man’s played in the league for 19 years. He’s played for a lot of coaches. Dale really understands this game. He knows two things — farming and hockey. He’s really good at them both.”
Hunter’s a better coach than a farmer. And he’s finally back where he’s always belonged.