Knights' coach headed for NHL

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

London Knights coach Dale Hunter and Erie Otters counterpart Dave MacQueen always look forward to those dates on the schedule when their teams play one another.

It's an opportunity for the old hockey player in them to reminisce about the days they were major junior linemates with the Sudbury Wolves.

The third member of that productive line was Mike Foligno, now coach and general manager of the Wolves. It's more of the same story-telling when the Knights and Wolves meet up.

Hunter and Foligno love to lay claim to sharing in MacQueen's record for the fastest goal in OHL history to start a game. MacQueen scored five seconds in against Peterborough on Oct. 20, 1978.

That feat was first accomplished by Paul Gardner, playing with Oshawa, on Feb. 13, 1976, against Kitchener.

The whole point is, few of these current Knights players will have that same opportunity to talk about "our line" when they gather years from now.

Set lines are not in Dale Hunter's vocabulary. He's the thinking man's coach, although some nights it might not look like it while he's parked behind the Knights bench, arms folded across the chest of his lucky tan jacket.

But behind those steely eyes, the wheels inside that mind are always turning as he's trying to find ways to make his team perform better -- not just that night, not just that period, but on the very next shift.

It's a standing joke that the lines posted in the media room before a game for use by the NHL scouts and play-by-play broadcasters "are for the first shift only."

But there is a case to be made for how he's constantly changing up his lines.

He will usually keep two players together, but the third is interchangeable. That renders the other team watching game film of the Knights almost useless and can also lead to instant results for the Knights.

Last night's game wasn't eight minutes old when Josh Beaulieu, showing some real hustle his first couple of shifts, replaced Jordan Foreman on the top line with David Bolland and Dylan Hunter.

Six minutes later, Beaulieu scored his sixth goal of the season, set up by Hunter off a pass from Bolland, giving the Knights a 2-0 lead.

Hunter has the best winning percentage among active OHL coaches -- .684 (175 wins, 80 losses, 17 ties) -- after last night's victory over the Otters.

Hunter believes in preparing every player to be capable of playing with every other player and has surrounded himself with some good coaches in Jacques Beaulieu and Jeff Perry to help.

But there are many other aspects to the coaching game where Hunter is proving to be beyond the major junior level.

Some people might call it tinkering. Others would call it bordering on genius. Whatever label, it's hockey savvy and Hunter has it.

Just when he sees that a team is catching on to one of the Knights' set plays off a faceoff and is double teaming a certain player, Hunter will send out a replacement for that player.

Teams don't identify with plays as much as defending against a certain player in that situation.

Here again, watching game film is rendered useless.

He's a risk-taker, using a five-forward power play. Hunter admits they will give up the odd short-handed goal, but he will take the extra power-play goals generated off it.

Bolland is the back man on the power play and the first to say he doesn't know what he's doing out there in that role. But as long as the puck is going in the net at the pace it has been, Bolland is just fine.

It's also interesting to watch and see how Hunter talks to his players on the bench through either Beaulieu or Perry, allowing Hunter to keep his eyes on the game at all times and thinking of his next move.

Dale Hunter is NHL-calibre and it's only be a matter of time before he gets a call.

He won't be spending any time on a minor-league bench.

He will go directly to the NHL, just like he did as a player, going from Sudbury straight to the Quebec Nordiques to begin a career that would span 19 years.

He'll be successful there, too, tinkering and all.


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