Hunter gives Knights added value

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

The score was 2-0 for the London Knights and they were killing a penalty Sunday against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.

The puck came back to the point and with a slew of people in front of goaltender Trevor Cann, the Majors blueliner let fly with a slaphot.

It would never get to the net.

Knights penalty killer Garrett Hunter threw himself in front of the shot, blocking it with his chest. The danger was averted.

It was no isolated incident. It's the type of thing Hunter does on a regular basis when he gets on the ice. There are more talented players than Hunter. There are better goal scorers and skaters than the 18-year-old forward. But when it comes to added value, teams such as the Knights would be poorer without players like Hunter.

Hunter has made himself a better hockey player. A sixth-round pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft in 2006, Hunter was a kid on the bubble. He wasn't very big; he didn't skate particularly well. But, as the son of Knights GM Mark Hunter, you knew he was going to get a chance to play on an OHL team.

He spent his first season after being drafted in Junior B hockey. His development was slowed by a broken wrist and a painful liver infection that took a long time to clear up.

Last year, he had a goal and two assists in 62 games with the Knights. He already has three goals and four assists this year.

Hunter realized he needed to get stronger and improve his skating.

"My skating obviously wasn't good enough," he said. "So I did a lot of work in the summer with training and improving my skating. I did a lot of extra skating after practice, in the summer. It's not there yet, but it's gotten better."

There's no magic formula to skating better. Hunter pounded the ice in an effort to improve. He worked out five days a week in the summer and skated as often as he could.

The improvement is clear.

So is the confidence the Knights have shown in him. He kills penalties, plays tough defensive situations, works the corners and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty to protect his teammates.

He isn't going to be a top-line guy, but he's the kind of player teams need to take care of all the other stuff top-end guys don't necessarily do.

This weekend, the Knights play three games, beginning tomorrow at home against Barrie Colts, followed by a trip to Plymouth on Saturday and another home game against Guelph on Sunday. More than the top-end guys need to produce.

If the Knights lack anything, it's grit and Hunter provides it. He plays with passion that allows him to stand out over other players, those who were expected to be better.

"There's no doubt he's surpassed a few players we expected different things from," said Knights assistant coach Pat Curcio. "It's nice to have a guy here who can do that for your team."

Doing little things that turn out to be big things during a game, can make the difference.

"He's made tremendous strides, which is a testament to how hard he worked," Curcio said. "He didn't stop skating, he didn't stop lifting weights. His skating has improved. Whatever it took to get better."

Hunter knows his role.

"I'm a defensive forward that has to finish his checks," he said. "I try and chip in with some points. But I'm happy with the way I've played but obviously, there's a long way to go."

With his dad Mark as general manager and uncle Dale as coach, it isn't always easy carrying the Hunter name. It would be difficult to find fault with how far Hunter has come.


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