Knights don comfy genes

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Dylan Hunter shook his head and grinned when it was suggested he and 16-year-old brother Tucker -- an impressive six-foot-two, 194-pound forward -- couldn't possibly be from the same clan.

"He got all the good genes," said the former Knights captain, who carries a more compact frame like his famous dad Dale, London's head coach.

This much is true at the folksy, family-oriented opening of London's training camp yesterday: the first names and faces may change, but the surnames and hockey backgrounds remain the same.

Tucker Hunter, Adam Perry and Corey Syvret skated around the John Labatt Centre as pro-bound brothers Dylan Hunter, Corey Perry and Danny Syvret watched.

While a first OHL camp can be intimidating for a 16-year-old, there is an overwhelming feeling of familiarity for many new Knights, including Tucker Hunter's cousins Garrett Hunter (GM Mark Hunter's son) and Adam Steadman.

"We grew up watching this team play, so it helps in that we know what to expect when we're here," Tucker Hunter said. "But you're still nervous. If you don't have nerves, that's not good. I know there will be expectations on me, but I'll just have to rise above it. Dylan helps. He tells me different things."

The old joke goes that every year, the Hunters start looking around the supper table when it's time to restock the Knights. Like good racehorse owners, they also delve into a player's bloodlines -- defenceman Ryan Martinelli's dad, Barry, played for the Soo Greyhounds; Corbin Crawford's father Lou and uncle Marc have both played and coached in the juniors and pros; and David Jarram's great-uncle is former Knights coach Bronco Horvath.

They must have liked what big defenceman Mike Noyes of Lucan offered in limited action last year because his younger brother Greg is also in camp.

"A lot of times, we'll go up to Kenora to find a kid, but it's the ones in our own back yard who end up developing into solid players," Mark Hunter said. "Dale and I have talked a lot about it. We do what we have to do (they have traded nephews Logan Hunter and Rick Steadman in the past to set up a Memorial Cup run) and we trust what we know."

Be it genetic or friendship, the Hunters work their hockey connections. London's 2006 first-rounder Phil McRae, whose father Basil is part-owner of the team and a former player, has known Tucker and Garrett Hunter for years.

"There's also some guys here from home (in St. Louis)," the 16-year-old McRae said. "(Defencemen) Kevin Bodker and Tony DeHart, I played with on the Junior Blues. (Forward) Brandon Bollig. It's a nice feeling. I can't believe I'm actually here in camp.

"I came to watch one game last year (during the OHL final) against Peterborough and that's when I knew I wanted to come here and play."

Phil McRae said one can expect to see more of big Basil around the rink this year. That fatherly presence is a given for new Knight Sam Gagner, whose dad Dave is now an assistant coach.

But for all their interest in family and pedigree, the Knights always leave a spot or two open for someone to skate out and surprise them in the next four weeks.

"We have one of the biggest training camps in the OHL and we want to give London kids a chance because it's worked out so well for us in the past," Mark Hunter said. "Brandon Prust. Matt Clarke. Kris Belan. Every year, there's somebody who plays their way onto the team in training camp."

One of the few non-attendees this week is promising free-agent defenceman Wilson Ngai, 17, who suffered a concussion while skating with a Tier II team.

"We don't expect to see him here now because of it," Mark Hunter said.


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