Friends and foes

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Twenty years ago, London Knights GM Mark Hunter scored 44 goals for the St. Louis Blues in what was his best statistical season in the NHL.

His linemates that 1985-86 campaign? Ron Flockhart and Dave Barr, the current GM and coach of the Guelph Storm, who is trying to knock off Hunter's Knights in the OHL's best-of-seven Western Conference final starting tomorrow night at the John Labatt Centre.

"That was a good hockey team in St. Louis -- we were one game from the Stanley Cup final but lost to Calgary in Game 7," Hunter said. "Dave coaches the same way he played. Very disciplined. Smart, defensive hockey.

"But he had no hands," Hunter added with a laugh.

Barr chose not to fire a retaliatory barb back at his old friend, which is completely onside with their teams' makeup and matchup. All series, Hunter's Knights will probe and pry and try to goad Guelph into taking stupid penalties while Barr's Storm will attempt to ignore their opposition's starry offensive flair and focus on the solid team effort that got them here in the first place.

"Most of the playoff games I've seen this year have been decided by special teams," Barr said. "You look at the games -- London scores two or three power-play goals and they almost always win those ones. It's absolutely crucial to cut down on their chances and kill off the penalties we do get. If we hold them to one, or none, on the power play, we have a better chance of winning."

Earlier this season after a loss in Guelph, London head coach Dale Hunter, Mark's brother, said the Storm played a boring style of hockey against his team. That kind of comment bugs Barr, who fashions his team more as a chameleon that can adapt to any way the game is played.

But Hunter watched playoff tape to prepare for the upcoming series and fiddled away from that tune after seeing the Guelph team pile up goals against Plymouth in the second round.

"They scored a lot, they have Macker (Ryan MacDonald in net) and they're a very well-coached team," Dale Hunter said. "We consider Dave Barr a friend. He's in this like we are. I think any of the four teams left can win it and, in the end, the fans win with a series like this. It's going to be exciting, hard-fought hockey."

The coaching battle could be as enticing as the on-ice product. Barr was tabbed OHL coach of the year a couple of weeks ago -- ending Hunter's bid for a third straight trophy.

Hunter never criticizes his players in public, but he is still emotional on the bench, reacting to officiating decisions with the usual animation of a basketball coach. Barr usually appears stone-faced and rigid, no more so than when London's Rob Schremp performed a kayak celebration after he beat the Storm with a shootout winner on Dec. 11 at the JLC.

Though Schremp paddled right in front of Barr, the coach later claimed he didn't see it and went on to say that hockey needs more characters like Schremp.

Experience-wise, Hunter and Barr are both 45 years old and old pros, although both reached the NHL through different routes.

Hunter never played a game in the minor leagues and then spent much of his 19-year career in Quebec and Washington. Barr played for five Western Hockey League teams and seven NHL squads and knows well the sting of being sent down to the minor leagues.

Hunter has coached London since November, 2001, while Barr found work as a bench boss in the now-defunct International Hockey League before taking on Guelph as GM three years ago before assuming the bench duties from Shawn Camp.

"For the past couple of years, Dale's been one of the top two or three coaches that we face," Barr said. "He came back this year with three-quarters of what he had last year and put it together in a way that made that team successful again. We know what we're up against."

Barr knows he helped London and his old linemate Mark Hunter win a Memorial Cup last year by trading goalie Adam Dennis and defencemen Dan Girardi to the Knights. Most GMs trade good players out of their conference so they don't come back to haunt them and he knows Dennis has that chance again.

"At the time, it was the right thing for our team," Barr said. "We think we made ourselves better in the long run and it helped build the team we have now."

Guelph is the only team with a winning regular-season record against London this season and no team scored more than four goals in any of the six games.

"But some of those games were at the start of the year and during the world juniors, when both teams had key guys missing," London assistant coach Jeff Perry said.

Both Hunter and Barr have been disciplined by OHL lawmakers -- Barr started this season serving a 15-game suspension dating back to last year's first-round sweep at the hands of London. Former Knight Ryan Pottruff was given 12 games for slashing Corey Perry and Barr had been overheard telling players to "go out there and break someone's wrist."

KNIGHTS VS. STORM

OHL Western Conference final

Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Game 2: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Guelph

Game 3: Sunday, 6 p.m. at the JLC

Game 4: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Guelph

x-Game 5: April 28, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC

x-Game 6: April 30, 3 p.m. at Guelph

x-Game 7: May 1, 7 p.m. at the JLC

x-if necessary

Regular season

Guelph won series 4-2

Sept. 29: Guelph, 4-2 win at Guelph

Nov. 17: Guelph, 3-2 shootout win at the JLC

Dec. 11 : London, 3-2 shootout win at the JLC

Dec. 28 : Guelph, 3-1 win at Guelph

Jan. 22: Guelph, 4-3 win at Guelph

Jan. 29: London, 4-1 win at the JLC

DALE HUNTER VS. DAVE BARR

NHL totals

1,407 game played 323 goals, 1,020 points 3,565 penalty minutes

OHL coaching

Fifth season as London's head coach; two-time coach of the year; 2005 OHL and Memorial Cup champion; three straight regular season titles

NHL totals

614 game played 128 goals, 332 points 520 penalty minutes

OHL coaching

Second season as Guelph's head coach; this season's coach of the year; 8-6 record in two playoffs; GM of Guelph's 2004 OHL championship team


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