Success starts in Hunter's head

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:35 AM ET

London Knights head coach Dale Hunter leaned back in his chair, his focus on the game tonight that could be a milestone first Ontario Hockey League championship in their 40 years, and was asked to look back two games against these same Ottawa 67's.

The Knights trailed early in the second period of the third game. Suddenly, without warning, starting goalie Adam Dennis skated off and on came Gerald Coleman.

It was a gutsy move.

What if Coleman, who hadn't seen game action in more than two weeks, was cold and coughed up a couple of softies and the change backfired?

Hunter saw it as a no-risk call and in many ways, it underlines his coaching personality and by extension, his team's personality, as well.

Decisions are made under the full understanding the team will execute as asked.

"It was just a feeling," Hunter said, leaving the sense that it was more than that.

"Ottawa was getting too many chances. We weren't playing well and I wanted to change things up a bit."

He didn't say that Dennis, who'd been the workhorse through the latter half of the Western Conference final against Kitchener, might have stopped some pucks that he didn't a game earlier, or that the third goal in Tuesday's game was questionable.

Hunter just says decisions like that are made easy because of the tandem he has.

"We've got two No. 1 goalies, goalies who'd be No. 1 on any other team," he said. "I have complete confidence in both."

Coleman was in again for the Knights' third win Thursday and was the beneficiary of the most complete performance his mates have displayed in these playoffs.

In goal, on defence and right through the forward lines, the Knights are a compelling force. It continues off the ice.

This is one extremely well-coached team. It's one thing to have the horses, which the Knights clearly do, but it's another to get them all to do the things required to win hockey games.

Against the rugged Kitchener Rangers, they had to take it up a notch physically. Against the more proficient offence of Ottawa on Thursday night, their forechecking and trap tilted the ice decisively for their own attack. These kids listen to their coaches.

Standing with Hunter are assistants Jacques Beaulieu, Jeff Perry and Dave Rook. All get to voice an opinion. Hunter makes the final decisions.

Considering his rather raucous 19-year NHL career, there were earlier assumptions that Hunter, along with brother Mark, would build a team in the image of the head coach. Dale Hunter was a compendium of skill, will and drill in relentless doses, a guy who could give it out, take it, and come back for more with an incredibly remorseless continuity that made him the only player in NHL history to score more than 300 goals and amass more than 3,000 penalty minutes.

But the Hunters wanted more than a hyper-aggressive team that could compete every night and make the playoffs.

They set out to build a team that would compete successfully every night in a fashion that would take the franchise right to the Memorial Cup.

They've done most of that and, as host of next week's Memorial Cup, want to put an exclamation point to their spectacular season by marching proudly through the front door as league champs.

To do it, they'll have to subdue a team that isn't short on work ethic tonight. Hunter expects the 67's to come out as though shot from the barrel of a cannon.

So far in these playoffs, the Knights have seen a wide range of hockey styles. They don't have to adapt to anyone else, just play their own game and adjust to what's coming at them.

If they stay out of the penalty box and can muster what they did last game, a 40-year drought is over.


Videos

Photos