Knights loaded at coaching position, too

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

When Dale Hunter takes over as head coach of the Washington Capitals . . .

Wait, let's start over.

If Dale Hunter becomes head coach of the National Hockey League franchise that's so keen on having him, there are a couple of guys in position to make the Knights' transition seamless.

Of the twin rumours that never seem to leave the Knights -- that the team is for sale and that the head coach is departing (both resurfacing this week in the Toronto media) -- attach more credence to the second one.

Hunter has earned his coaching spurs, he enjoys challenges and would be right in the milieu where he spent 19 years as a player.

"I only take it one season at a time," he said yesterday.

Dale Hunter will be coaching the Knights next year, he says. No, the franchise is not for sale.

What happens beyond that is open to speculation, but if you were to wager the former Cap will be behind the bench there for the 2006-07 season, presuming somebody scores a knockout over the lockout, it wouldn't be a bad bet.

In the wings stand a couple of sharp young guys ready to assume the head coaching whistle. If their presence is part of a master plan designed to prepare for Dale Hunter's eventual departure, hats off to the planner.

Jeff Perry, not related to player Corey Perry, and Jacques Beaulieu, not related to player Josh Beaulieu, are a couple of well-spoken fellows who have the respect of the players and the brothers who employ them.

The front-runner in the event of a coaching change would have to be Perry because of his OHL experience. He was the Sarnia Sting head coach before sitting a couple of players who apparently deserved it. It did not sit well with the owners, despite his winning record.

Unlike Dale Hunter, who also has invited players to take a seat, Perry is not an owner.

"I was shocked," said Perry, who was hired by the Hunters almost immediately. "Somebody said 'Everything happens for a reason' and I thought 'That's easy for you to say,' but now, a year and a half later, it couldn't have worked out better."

Beaulieu does not have the major junior experience, but has earned his coaching spurs nonetheless. Coach of the Petrolia Jets four years, he came to the London Nationals, where he led the team to a 44-8 record that included a 27-game winning streak.

His resume was expanded when he was named as a coach of the Ontario under-17 team.

"Somebody asked what the most exciting time has been and I told them the best moment was Aug. 26, when we started; it hasn't stopped since," the former electrician said.

This season and the Memorial Cup have been invaluable to Perry and Beaulieu.

It is commonly thought a team that is loaded with talent is easy to coach, that the guy just nods at the next line up and it fires over the boards to wreak more havoc on the overmatched opponent.

Not likely. A team with an exceptional array of talent almost always requires more deft handling to keep heads from swelling and desire from dwindling.

Both the assistants touch on this as being the most exciting, pressure-filled and rewarding of their careers. The most profound thing to come out of their mouths is that they are learning every day, something that usually comes from the mouth of guys like septuagenarian Brian Kilrea of Ottawa 67's.

Each says the freedom to express opinions counter to their head coach is refreshing. While not speculating as to the head coach's future, they are of one mind when what-if scenarios come up.

Of any head coaching job in junior hockey, this is the one they'd want.

One is likely to get it one day.


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