Dale Hunter returns to Knights
RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
LONDON, ONT. - Dale Hunter is considering a flashy new suit for his second go-round as head coach of the London Knights.
"What do you think - maybe a red one," the new and old boss quipped, invoking his inner Don Cherry at his official re-introduction Tuesday night at Jack Astor's on Richmond Row, "to go with my red tie."
Superman wore red, too, but Dale's return-to-his-London roots has the exact opposite effect. It means no one with the Knights will have to don the Man of Steel cape Mark Hunter did when his older brother departed last November for a six-month stint coaching the Washington Capitals.
"I left a lot on Mark's plate and now, everything won't fall on one person anymore," Dale said. "I'm excited about it. It's because of London - family, the fans, everyone in the community who has supported us - that's the reason I wanted to come back."
There's no sensational back story to this reunion. Dale and Mark, who guided the Knights to within one shot of a second Memorial Cup title, got together recently at the John Labatt Centre for the Big Talk.
"It comes down to one thing - do other teams fear us more when we're together or when we're apart," Mark Hunter said. "We're a weaker team with me coaching. I've always respected what Dale's been able to do as a coach. He has the highest winning percentage in OHL history (.691) so that has to count for something.
"It's his team and I'm happy he's here again.
"With him back, I get to do the scouting and the recruiting and the draft, which everyone knows I enjoy and I think it makes us stronger, us together.
"You want to do what's going to help us the most to win now and in the long-term - that's always been our focus -- and this sets us up to do that."
Mark doesn't know if he will return behind the bench as an assistant.
"That's up to Dale," he said.
Dale Hunter said he has the rest of the summer to decide who will fit where in this new scheme. Mark Hunter finished with three assistant coaches - Rob Ramage, Misha Donskov and Dale's son Dylan Hunter - all of whom are expected to be back.
"Mark and I talked and we've done it this way for a lot of years," Dale said. "We've had success, the two of us in these roles, and we expect that success to continue.
"Mark did a great job with the team this year and it just shows it's about the organization and people we have. One person can leave and the team will still win."
Dale doesn't expect to be a much different coach than when he left, though obviously, he is battle-hardened.
"You're obviously in the NHL coaching against the best in the world," he said. "You watch a lot more video than you do in junior. I didn't find it too hectic because I wasn't playing. It's harder on the players. You're travelling everywhere by plane and there's not a lot of down time.
"You're expected to keep going and not get injured or run down. In junior, it's more of a Friday-to-Sunday weekend league and there's a lot more teaching involved."
The players, once they heard last month Dale was leaving the Capitals to return to London, knew this was the probable course for the team.
"We weren't surprised by it," said London forward Matt Rupert, still living at Dale Hunter's London home with twin brother Ryan. "We knew whether it was Mark or Dale, the same was going to be expected of us.
"Dale's the coach again, it looks like we will be good again next year, and when we get to camp, we'll work as hard as always to get ready for next season."
The systems aren't going to change much. There is still going to be a strict attention to defensive detail and shot-blocking will be expected.
"It's going to be the same systems we've always had," he said.
Dale Hunter has 451 wins in little more than 11 years working those systems.
If the Knights match their win total from last year - 49 - he will be the quickest in OHL history to 500.
No one is expecting, red suit or not, anything less.