Knights playing Hunter hockey

London knight assistant Coach Dale Hunter answers reporters questions during a news conference at...

London knight assistant Coach Dale Hunter answers reporters questions during a news conference at the Bionest Center in Shawinigan Quebec, Sunday May 20, 2012. (QMI Agency/Didier Debusschere)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - Behind a massive semicircle of Memorial Cup reporters hanging on his son Dale's every word, Dick Hunter thought back to The Battle of Quebec days when the Montreal Canadiens and Nordiques used to butt heads in every possible way.

"They get excited here," the Hunter hockey patriarch said. "Oh, it was a big deal. It was beer company versus beer company. People back home from our area wouldn't understand. We had one son (Mark) in Montreal and another (Dale) in Quebec. We couldn't cheer for one over the other. We'd go to the Forum. Everyone would be getting fired up and I'd look at my wife (the late Bernice) and she'd just be sitting there with her arms folded, not saying a word.

"She just wanted to watch the boys play."

Now that's Dale in the role of watcher.

Dale Hunter, the London co-owner who left his Washington Capitals gig for the familiarity of his family-run Knights, was asked if he felt helpless not helping out on the bench here. He does bounce down to the Knights' room at every intermission to offer his thoughts.

"No," he said. "Everyone's different. I enjoy watching the kids play from up top. Mark's done a good job with this team. I'm proud of the way they've played."

Get this far into the hockey season and everyone's a jangle of nerves, riding the herky-jerky elevator of elation and frustration.

In the Stanley Cup chase this spring, Washington's stomach-churning games featured obligatory shots of Capitals general manager George McPhee in his suite, constantly scrunching up his face, his body grinding through an emotional spin cycle at every momentum turn.

On the bench, when the TV cameras pointed at Hunter, he was, more often than not, taking a hearty swig from a water bottle and wearing a stone face.

People often wonder why Dale Hunter was such a big-game performer and how these Knights appear to be cut from that same cloth. They're a lot younger than the Saint John powerhouse they beat Saturday night in their Cup opener, and were surprisingly more poised than the defending champs.

"Dale's a lot like his mom -- nothing bothers him -- and Mark shows his emotions a little more, like me," Dick Hunter said, "but you get here and it's a hockey game, and we're used to it. We've been to how many games over the years. Thousands. You've been through it. Of course, you hope the boys do well and win, but you know, from experience, it could go either way.

"You just hope for the best and watch. That's all you can do."

Dick, who's 76, wasn't going to come to the tournament this week.

"But Dale was driving up and I decided to come along," he said.

This is the busy farming season. The weather's been real good back home and there's work to be done.

Mark and Dale haven't been able to tend to their crops while trying to win London's second Memorial Cup title.

"You need help and it's all about the people around you," Dick Hunter said. "We've got my boy Ron and (grandson) Logan pitching in. They had some time off. Boy, they've been a big help. It's like the team. Not enough credit goes to everyone Mark has helping him after Dale left. We're lucky to have Rob (assistant coach Rob Ramage). Look what he's done. All the good coaches he's played for over the years? He knows his stuff. Donny Boyd is here. And there's Dylan (Dale's son). He had to step up here. He played, and you've got Mish (assistant GM Misha Donskov). He works hard."

The original Hunter hockey approach, always chock full of sweat, dirt and grime, filters through the Knights' common-sense captain, Jarred Tinordi, to the rest of the club.

"It's the Cup," Knights forward Vladislav Namestnikov said. "Why wouldn't you work hard?"

It's personified in Matt Rupert roaring back to lift Saint John captain Jonathan Huberdeau's stick and steal the puck or brother Ryan bashing bigger bodies in the corners, winning battles and setting up goals.

"We didn't want to put on our work boots," Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant said, "and London did. They wanted it more than us and that's why they won."

Those boots, it turns out, fit well anywhere -- the farm, the NHL, and yes, at a Quebec-based Memorial Cup.

And if you're comfortable in them the way Hunter's Knights are, the stage doesn't need to feel so big.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanAtLFPress


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