Dale Hunter scores 900th career Trainers win – London

True greatness can be difficult to describe.


You can tell when you see it, but explaining what it does is nearly impossible even for the truly brilliant.

It often seems to come down to the little things. But those little things often lead to big things.

London Knights head coach Dale Hunter has reached 900 wins in the Ontario Hockey League, adding a new milestone to an already illustrious coaching career.

Hunter has reached the number faster than any other coach in OHL history and while his place among the greats is surely cemented, he continues to bring success to the teams and players he guides behind the bench in London.

If you go back to the start of the 2022-23 OHL season, it looked like there was an outside chance Hunter would make it. The Knights had to win 44 games to make that happen. It’s not easy in a 68-game season. Only two OHL teams reached that number last year.

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It came in a 6-3 victory over his Knights in Windsor, Ontario on March 25, 2023.

If you go back to the beginning of Hunter’s OHL coaching career, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this year’s club ranked among the best in the league. Year after year he has led his team to great levels.

Dale Hunter went behind the bench in the 2001-02 season when the Knights were looking for a new coach. At the time the obvious choice to fill the role seemed to be Mark Hunter. Mark had an excellent coaching resume. Dale had almost no experience.

But Dale started with a simple strategy. He played for quite a few coaches in his life. He saw how it resonated with the players and saw the flats that fell.

Hunter did his best to use the things that brought him success, avoiding everything else.

Four months after Hunter’s first game as manager, eighth-placed London upset first-placed Plymouth Whalers in six games in the 2002 playoffs. The Knights then loaded up on the defending champion Erie Otters and eventually pushed it into overtime in the sixth game before giving up the series winner to Carlo Colaiacovo of the Otters.

Hunter got all he could out of a young and inexperienced roster. He prepared them to win and made them believe that they could win.

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Then he helped his players make it happen.

It is a formula that has been repeated ever since.

A formula that has seen more and more victories. From those early hiccups to the Canadian Hockey League’s biggest stage, where London has won the Memorial Cup twice, to the biggest international stage of senior juniors, where Mark and Dale Hunter helped build and then execute a gold medal performance with Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships. .

Hunter does not seek praise or attention. He always gives credit to his players and points out to anyone who asks, “they’re the ones blocking the shots and taking the shots.”

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However, there are many times when a coach directly affects a game. The fans don’t see them but they happen. An extra line or shift for Hunter who knows he’s “going to go that night” is a change and suddenly a game goes in his team’s favor.

It happened on opening night at Budweiser Gardens (then the John Labatt Center) in 2002, with the Knights leading Plymouth 4-1 early in the second period. A quick goalkeeping change got his players out of a slow start and London came back to win 5-4.

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But some of Hunter’s biggest moves have been much more subtle.

In 2016, at the Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alta., London brought a 16-game winning streak into the tournament against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The Knights won the bye and stayed Wednesday through Sunday until the finals.

They scored the first goal of the game but the Huskies came back and took a 2-1 lead and the clock started ticking at the end of the third period.

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With 4:26 left in regulation time, London was intentionally called offside at the Rouyn-Noranda blue line and the game went into the final televised timeout. The face entered the territory of the Knights. On the bench London defender Brandon Crawley stood up and gave an inspired speech about the game “not ending like this” but Hunter’s mind was at work. The line of Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak was the best in the Canadian Hockey League that year. They were on the ice before the timeout started.

Dvorak was supposed to go outside and draw the defensive zone draw but he would get off the ice as quickly as possible to join Marner and Tkachuk in the next round.

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Hunter made a decision as Dvorak walked away from the bench.

“I knew we had to do something, so I called (Dvorak) to hang out,” Hunter recalls.

Dvorak beat Max Jones on the toss and carried the puck up the ice and into the Huskies zone before getting hit. Aaron Berisha chased the puck into the right corner and Jones got to his skates and flew into that corner with a big shot, knocking the puck over to Berisha.

Berisha crossed to Dvorak, who shouldn’t have been there. He would usually go to the bench when Jones took the ice. But Hunter told him to stay out and Dvorak took Berisha’s pass and was in position to score the game-tying goal that set up the final drama of the Knights Memorial Cup victory in overtime.

It was a small thing but it was essential. It ended up being a big deal. A gut feeling Hunter has used throughout his career.

Appeared in the gold medal game at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships. With just over four minutes left in the third period, Team Canada was tied 3-3 against Team Russia.

Hunter’s players battled back from a 3-1 lead but the pace of the game stalled.

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The opportunities weren’t really coming either way.

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Hunter remembers looking at the line of Team Canada jerseys sitting in front of him “looking for something he could pull off.”

“Akil Thomas scored some big goals against (the London Knights),” Hunter admitted.

Thomas played the role of the No. 13 forward in that game, so he wasn’t in the regular lineup, but Hunter gave him a shot and when Team Canada made a switch on the wing and Thomas jumped up the ice, he snagged a puck. he raced up the ice and put a putback into the back of the net for what would eventually be the game-winning goal.

Small things that lead to big things.

Hunter is always looking for the next little thing that can help his team.

“Hockey keeps you on your toes. You watch any team or any match and you can learn from it… exercises… ideas… It’s enjoyable”.

But some of his greatest joys come from the relationships he builds with players.

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“(Former Knights captain) Scott Aarssen brought his three young kids into the trainer’s room the other day. That’s a big change. But they all come back. And we keep them all going. That’s the big thing.”

Next up for Dale Hunter in OHL coaching milestones is not 1,000 wins, but second on the all-time list. The late Bert Templeton won 907 games in his illustrious career.

Former Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea is the all-time winningest coach in Ontario Hockey history. He had 1194 wins in his Hall of Fame career.

Hunter and Kilrea meet before the final game between London and the Ottawa 67’s in Ottawa, Ontario on January 27, 2023.

When asked what the two talked about, Hunter replied, “Just a few little things.”

Little things that will certainly continue to lead to bigger things for Dale Hunter.

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