BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
There’s a renewed relationship between an alum and the Washington Capitals organization. Dale Hunter’s promotion to the big club is old news, but the fulfillment of his dream is just taking shape.
In the formal announcement of Hunter’s new gig as Caps’ bench boss on Nov. 28, vice president and general manager George McPhee expressed Hunter’s aspirations to coach the Capitals and the relationship he’s maintained with the team since playing for Washington from the 1987-88 season until 1999.
“Timing is everything and the time is right now,” McPhee said.
The timing was also right for Hunter, whose bags hadn’t even arrived from the airport by the time he was wearing his red Caps’ warm-ups at his first team practice. A legend to Caps fans, Hunter wasn’t just getting a promotion, he was getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
“This is the only team he’s ever wanted to coach,” said McPhee. “He had opportunities with other teams, but this is the team he wanted to coach.”
Hunter addressed the media soon after, echoing the GM’s words prior to his first introduction to a flurry of unfamiliar faces.
“This has been my team – well I shouldn’t say my team, this is Ted’s team,” Hunter corrected himself. “But it feels like my team because I’ve played here so long and have good memories here.”
During his 12-year tenure with the Caps Hunter played in 872 games, compiling 556 points (181 goals, 375 assists) and 2,003 penalty minutes (PIM). He ranks first all-time in Capitals’ history in PIM, third in assists, fourth in games played and tied for ninth in goals. Hunter is one of just four Caps to have their numbers retired as his No. 32 was retired on March 11, 2000.
Hunter also captained the team from the 1994-95 season until the 1998-99 season, hinting during the press conference that the “C” insignia he once donned on his jersey now gives him a leg-up – “I was captain of the team when I was playing here. I technically was a coach.”
If anything, now captain Alex Ovechkin and he have something in common, a captain-to-captain bond if you will.
“He’s a legend here and he played here,” Ovechkin said. “He was a captain here and he knows how to win games and how to play.”
Ovechkin also acknowledged that two of his teammates (Dennis Wideman and John Carlson), who played for Hunter in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), “have nothing but good things to say about him.”
Since retiring, Hunter has kept himself busy at the developmental level as the owner, president and head coach of the London Knights in the OHL. And although diving head-first right into the National Hockey League (NHL) from juniors may seem like skipping steps, McPhee showed confidence in his decision to let Hunter take the reins.
“Coaching’s coaching and he’s been coaching at a high level. The man’s played in the league for 19 years, he really understands the game,” McPhee said. “He knows two things, farming and hockey, and he’s really good at both.”
Hunter now has the opportunity to prove his boss right.
“Being here so long, I have come close to winning it and I’d like to bring a winner here,” Hunter said. “It starts by making the playoffs and once you’re in, anything can happen.”
When Hunter was formally introduced to the cameras, tripods and equipment that flooded the media area last week, his new position may have still seemed like a dream. Now with a handful of games under his belt and a fresh slate of ideas and players to work with, reality is starting to kick in. The opportunities seem to be endless for Hunter and the Caps, but they’re starting with a vision of the postseason.