Hunters have earned right to celebrate

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

It's not an unusual scene after a huge victory.

The winning team's dressing room is packed with people wanting to become part of the celebration, wanting to grab a piece of the glory, just hanging out for the sake of being seen and hopefully being acknowledged.

So it was minutes after the London Knights had become Ontario Hockey League champions Saturday night. The room was packed with people running around accepting congratulations, smoking cigars, wearing OHL champions baseball caps.

In the middle of it all was a group of individuals who deserved to celebrate wildly, to wear those champions hats, smoke those big cigars and lose control a little bit because of what they'd done in five short years.

Yes, they were happy. Yet while they wore massive grins, accepted congratulations and watched the partying around them, they were a calm sea in the middle of a stormy ocean of celebrations.

General manager Mark Hunter and coach Dale Hunter, along with Hunter's coaching staff of Jeff Perry, Jacques Beaulieu and Dave Rook, made this thing happen. The satisfaction level must have been enormous and when most of the hangers-on had gone they probably let loose a little. But with one prize won, the big one is still out there. These guys know how much work has gone into getting this far. They also know how much more will be needed to win a Memorial Cup.

They've instilled that in their players.

"We don't look at this as one more game for an OHL championship," said Danny Syvret. "We look at it as another step in our season."

David Bolland said much the same. "We wanted to win an OHL championship but we've still got a lot of work to do," he said.

As hockey people, the Hunters are professionals.

So as the sound of honking horns dies down, as hoarse throats recover in the buildup to the Memorial Cup, the Hunters need to be acknowledged for what they've done.

There have been plenty of stories about the hockey moves the Hunters have made, how they've built the franchise, the draft choices and the hockey structure. Congratulations to them for that.

But not enough has been made of the chances they took when it came to making this franchise what it is today. The Hunters evoke great emotion in people. Many like them, many don't. What no one can argue is how hard they've worked to bring this all about.

The 2005 Knights play in a beautiful building before sellout crowds. They get national media attention, they've set records on the ice and make a ton of money off it. All that is enough to spark great envy.

None of this was handed the family of hockey-playing farmers from the Petrolia area.

Someone once said, "if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere."

The team the Hunters bought didn't have a lot of future, played out of an old building and had a reputation for making all the wrong moves. They rebuilt the organization from the bottom, risking their own money and reputations.

No doubt things have fallen into place for them, the building of the John Labatt Centre being the most important. But good fortune smiles on those who plan well. We can go back to the year the Hunters traded their two best veteran players for Dennis Wideman. They risked missing the playoffs and losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fallout from that is now earning them millions, has earned them an OHL championship and perhaps a Memorial Cup.

Someone else once said, "your future depends on many things, but mostly on you."

The Hunters have come under criticism for mortgaging their future in an effort to give their team the best chance to win a Memorial Cup this year. No guts, no glory as they say.

No one controls what happens in the future. But you have a measure of control in what happens now.

Their desire to win saw them trade Rick Steadman and Logan Hunter, two family members because they thought it would help their hockey club.

"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra," an unknown wise person said.

The Hunters have gone that little extra. They've earned the right to celebrate whenever and however they please.


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