As many move up, Hunter stays put

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

This was a great summer to land a pro hockey coaching gig.

Kitchener's Peter DeBoer jumped to the NHL. So did Sault Ste. Marie's Craig Hartsburg.

Dale Hunter stayed put.

Just last month, new Knight Nazem Kadri went to Ottawa for a Canadian world junior summer session run by Benoit Groulx. Now, Hockey Canada is looking for another head coach after the former Gatineau Olympiques boss grabbed a job in the American Hockey League.

"That's a real curveball," Kadri said yesterday as Knights training camp opened. "I guess we'll all be waiting to see who gets it."

Ottawa's Brian Kilrea has been mentioned. Pat Quinn is available and is familiar with Hockey Canada's program.

Sooner or later, someone will get around to mentioning Hunter. Every year, he is asked why he doesn't throw his name into the mix.

He never says outright he doesn't want to do it. You get the sense he'd welcome the challenge but . . .

"I've been busy here," he said. "There's a whole procedure you have to go through. There's the under-18s first. Most guys go through the system before they get that job. It's a big commitment."

This year's world juniors are in Ottawa so there's no overseas travel involved. But an unwillingness to rack up air miles is not what holding Hunter back.

Hunter just returned from a seven-game tour of Germany and Austria with a team largely made up of former Knights. Led by Sam Gagner and Rob Schremp, the club went 4-3 with two shootout wins against pro competition.

But it was assistant coach and organizer Pat Curcio's show, so Hunter stepped back.

"I was the assistant," he said with a grin. "I coached the defence."

That won't be the way it works this season. Looking more and more like London will go with a two-man bench, Hunter said he will handle the forwards and Curcio will take departed Dave Gagner's role with the defence.

"We had a two-man bench when Jacques (Beaulieu, now the head coach of the Quebec league's Saint John franchise) was here so it's nothing new," Hunter said. "It can work. It just means you have to watch the play and talk to the kids at the same time.

"We first brought in a third (Jeff Perry) because it was a Memorial Cup year (in 2005) and you're playing different teams from different leagues and you don't want to miss anything."

Hunter is entering his eighth season running the Knights bench. There is only one other man who has coached the team for that same stretch -- Bill Long, from 1972-79.

He has solidified the position and the players go in knowing he isn't going to be fired (as president, he'd have to relieve himself of the duties because he isn't going to be canned by his own younger brother Mark, the team's GM).

He is currently third in the OHL for continuous head coaching service with one team -- behind Kilrea and Brampton's Stan Butler. But that doesn't mean he'll always be around. He has always indicated that one day, he will make his move.

"He's probably the best coach not in the NHL right now and I believe if he was in the NHL right now, he would be one of the best coaches in the league," Curcio said. "I know he has expressed an interest in one day . . . winning a Stanley Cup. With his track record, you'd think teams would be begging him to join them."

Hunter's first regular-season victory this year will be his 300th in the OHL. He has a ridiculous winning rate -- nearly seven of every 10 games he coaches.

Hunter is always adjusting, constantly changing, forever seeking an edge. But for almost a decade now, he has chosen to do it in the same place -- London.


Videos

Photos