Cup win could make Hunter forget coach award snub

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Dale Hunter was robbed, jobbed and lobbed out of contention for Canadian junior hockey coach-of-the-year honours.

These guys couldn't pick their own mother out of a roomful of Watusi warriors. There must have been a conspiracy. It was political.

These are perspectives you don't have to go far around London to encounter after the fifth-year coach failed to get the nod by a group of selectors from the NHL's Central Scouting charged with designating the coaching Oscar.

His assistant coaches obviously feel that way. So does his co-owner and brother, general manager Mark Hunter.

His players, Knights fans and others who witnessed the team's record-smashing season are of a like mind. What's a guy gotta do to win the thing anyway?

Maybe not being last year's winner would help.

Cory Clouston of Kootenay Ice won out over Hunter and Richard Martel of Chicoutimi Sagueneens when the ballots from the selectors, the NHL's Central Scouting group, came in.

Clouston's win was announced at yesterday's CHL Awards luncheon when the annual hardware was distributed along with the various player achievements.

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn has won the NHL coaching award twice and was of two minds. Hunter, based on keeping a hot team hot during a pressure-packed season that saw everyone girding up to beat the Knights, obviously did a superb job of guiding the team home to a 59-win season that accounted for a heap of league and national records.

Quinn, who won the Jack Adams Award in 1980 with the Philadelphia Flyers and again in 1992 when he was leading the Vancouver Canucks, felt he had better coaching years in which he didn't win.

Making a long stride forward from the previous season can be big, he felt.

"Sometimes when your team makes a big leap ahead from the last season, it has an effect on people judging these things," he said. "But not always. My first year in Toronto, we went up 46 points over the previous year."

Still, he finished as runnerup to Jacques Martin.

Quinn felt the selectors have a monumental task from the outset.

"There are a lot of really good coaches in junior hockey and you're asked to pick one out of 56 of them," Quinn said.

"That in itself is pretty tough."

Hunter won back-to-back OHL coach-of-the-year awards as well as last year's CHL award.

The trouble with any awards of this type is by the time you get down to three candidates of considerable achievement, picking one is pretty difficult.

Hunter's players were his staunchest supporters.

"I can't say what happened," Corey Perry said. "I know we were unbeaten in 31 straight games and set a lot of OHL and CHL records and surpassed our team of last year, and a lot of credit for that goes to him."

Team captain Danny Syvret, like Perry cradling his award, saw it as a tough call.

"A lot of people have different opinions but I know playing for him, he's an excellent coach and always has us prepared," Syvret said. "It's tough not to pick him but I guess (Clouston) had a good year, too."

Clouston couldn't comment on any other coach's season because he was too busy with his own, winning the WHL championship with a 47-15-7-3 record.

"I saw Dale as a player and I expect he brings the same to coaching by working hard and demanding a lot of his players," he said.

As for Dale Hunter, he ducked the luncheon to be with his team. Of anybody, he's the least likely to feel slighted, especially with the Memorial Cup in his gunsights.

Coaching awards are like the NHL's President's Trophy. Nobody remembers which was the best team after 82 games, only the one holding the Stanley Cup at the end.


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