Fans believe in Hunters

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

Take two of your top three players off a forward line and everyone would be worried about whether they can be replaced.

The London Knights will have to beef up their defence to be successful. They will have to find a little more scoring. Will Steve Mason play as well in net this year as he did at the end of last year?

No one seems particularly concerned that a team that's won two Western Conference championships and a Memorial Cup has replaced two of its three coaches.

The assumption is that with Dale Hunter still the head coach, nothing much will change. The guys he brings in will be able to work with him and provide him with the same input and help that former assistants Jacques Beaulieu and Jeff Perry provided.

The Knights will still be able to win.

This type of "don't worry, the Hunters will do something" feeling is prevalent around the John Labatt Centre. Need a defenceman? Mark Hunter will get one. Need a goalie? Mark Hunter will find one. How are things going to shake out behind the bench? Don't worry, Dale Hunter is still there.

"You knew that changes were going to happen," Dale Hunter said. "There comes a time when you don't want to be an assistant coach any more.

"That also happens when you're winning. You look in the NFL and a team wins and has a great defence, the defensive coach gets a head coaching job somewhere. Everyone wants to get a piece of that winning team."

Beaulieu is the head coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs.

Perry is still looking for a coaching job.

But as a trio, their strengths complemented one another. Beaulieu was a defensive specialist, Perry did the forwards and special teams and they acted as a sounding board for the players. Hunter made the final decisions.

Now the same type of chemistry will have to develop between Dave Gagner, Todd Bidner and Hunter.

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"You have to be on the same page as coaches," Hunter said. "They have their input, you listen. But the head coach has the final say."

The new coaching structure will be a lot like the old coaching structure. Gagner will handle the defence. The entire coaching staff will have input in special teams and Bidner has plenty of experience in dealing with kids.

"He (Bidner) has a degree in kinesiology. He played for a while professionally and he's worked with kids," Hunter said. "He worked in a boys home in Sarnia so he understands kids. He knows daily life. He can help with with hockey, school, girlfriends. He's a good buffer between the kids and the coaches and he'll be really good at it.

"I knew Gagner for a long time, in the pros and him being from Chatham. We knew from his coaching minor teams that he was skilled as a player and a coach."

Mark Hunter said when word got out that there would be a major overhaul in the coaching staff, a number of people wanted to be considered.

"You have to find the right mix," Mark Hunter said. "You have to find the right mix between the head coach and the first guy and then you have to go out and get the right mix between the second guy to go with the first guy and the head coach."

There is such a thing as waiting too long to make changes, even if an organization is successful. As assistant coaches grow, they may grow restless.

Bringing in new coaches means an infusion of new ideas and perspective . . . and a clear definition of who the head coach is.

There's always a risk. As well as think you know someone, you never really know how things will pan out until you've had your feet put to the fire.

"It won't take long for them to get to know the league," Dale Hunter said. "You see teams once you get a good idea of how they play."

Not surprisingly, Hunter boils down all the x's and o's, all the talk about chemistry and tactics, all the speculation about whether the new coaching staff will be successful or not, to it's simplest form.

"These are two good hockey guys," Hunter said. "And we're talking hockey here. It's easy when you're talking hockey."

"You have to be on the same page as coaches," Hunter said. "They have their input, you listen. But the head coach has the final say."

The new coaching structure will be a lot like the old coaching structure. Gagner will handle the defence. The entire coaching staff will have input in special teams and Bidner has plenty of experience in dealing with kids.

"He (Bidner) has a degree in kinesiology. He played for a while professionally and he's worked with kids," Hunter said.

"He worked in a boys' home in Sarnia, so he understands kids. He knows daily life. He can help with with hockey, school, girlfriends. He's a good buffer between the kids and the coaches and he'll be really good at it.

"I knew Gagner for a long time, in the pros and him being from Chatham. We knew from his coaching minor teams that he was skilled as a player and a coach."

Mark Hunter said when word got out that there would be a major overhaul in the coaching staff, a number of people wanted to be considered.

"You have to find the right mix," he said. "You have to find the right mix between the head coach and the first guy and then you have to go out and get the right mix between the second guy to go with the first guy and the head coach."

There is such a thing as waiting too long to make changes, even if an organization is successful.

As assistant coaches grow, they may grow restless.

Bringing in new coaches means an infusion of new ideas and perspective . . . and a clear definition of who the head coach is.

There's always a risk. As well as you think you know someone, you never really know how things will pan out until you've had your feet put to the fire.

"It won't take long for them to get to know the league," Dale Hunter said. "You see teams once, you get a good idea of how they play."

Not surprisingly, Hunter boils down all the x's and o's, all the talk about chemistry and tactics, all the speculation about whether the new coaching staff will be successful or not, to it's simplest form.

"These are two good hockey guys," Hunter said. "And we're talking hockey here.

"It's easy when you're talking hockey."


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