BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
An impressive workweek-crowd gathered to witness Dale Hunter take the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the first morning skate prior to his National Hockey League coaching debut on Tuesday against St. Louis.
The media made their own game of the bigger-than-usual crowd by placing over-under bets on how many people would pull a “Hunter” sweater out of their closet for that night’s game. But that morning it was made clear that jerseys would not be the only Hunter apparel brought out of hibernation. Throughout the skate, eyes were drawn to an oversized banner with Hunter’s likeness and number “32.”
“This is the banner that was raised on March 11, 2000, when Dale Hunter’s number was retired,” said Caps’ fan Krissie DePollo.
Just a day earlier Hunter had been named the new head coach of the Washington Capitals and DePollo wasn’t going to miss the chance to welcome her “hockey hero” back to town.
“He’s my favorite player of all time, my favorite Capital, my favorite hockey player,”
DePollo started following the Caps at a young age. Her love for the new head coach came on a night where Hunter was again a topic of conversation.
“The first game I went to I was nine and Dale Hunter was being recognized on the ice for something crazy, like 2000 penalty minutes,” she said.
Years later she got a chance to have more than just memories of the former Caps’ captain.
“Three years ago when they held the first Caps Convention they had all the blue banners that were raised on auction so that they could raise the new red ones,” DePollo said. “I saw it on the table and I went to try and win it. Someone else originally had the winning bid.”
DePollo found the fan that beat her to the bidding table and discovered that he had bid on Mike Gartner’s banner as well.
“I told him how much Dale meant to me, so he told me he’d let me have the banner if I would name my first son after him,” she laughed. “I promised him I’d do that, but I don’t remember his name anymore (laughing).”
DePollo continued to follow Hunter through his junior coaching career and was able to experience him from a new perspective for the first time in person on Tuesday– as a head coach.
“He did really good things in London, with the team he owns and coaches, so I hope he’s able to bring that down here,” DePollo said. “He was such a good player. If he just brings what he did as a player I think we’ll be in the right direction.”
Even with the huge crowd – media and fans alike - that wanted an opportunity with Hunter, DePollo wasn’t left out. As the busy news day came to a close coach Hunter was seen heading over to his biggest fan with a sharpie in hand.