OAKVILLE– Dale Hunter really does not like losing.
So much so that during the 2006 OHL Playoffs, the London Knights head coach was fined $5,000 for arguing with on-ice officials. Even though his team got swept, Hunter still stuck up for his players.
It is that fervent focus on winning and distaste for losing that has made Hunter the blueprint junior hockey coach in Canada. Under Hunter’s leadership, the London Knights have achieved nine division titles and won two Memorial Cups.
Flash forward to the present and Hunter is employing his winning background to Canada’s National U-20 Junior Team. With the selection camp on its second day, the Canadian players are getting a taste of the identity Hunter wants to develop for this team.
“There is nothing more than Dale loves to do than to win hockey games,” said McMichael. “The biggest thing is to work your hardest. He likes guys that can compete, protect leads and stick to a system.”
Connor McMichael plays for Hunter on this year’s London Knights squad. After getting drafted 25th in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to the Washington Capitals, McMichael was sent back to London to improve his game.
The decision would be the impetus for the Knights once again near the top of the standings. Under Hunter’s leadership, McMichael has become the OHL’s most dynamic scorer, leading the league in points with 59 (25 goals, 34 assists). But in addition to his offence, McMichael is focusing on other aspects of his game.
Hunter prepares his players for a career in the NHL. And by doing so, he puts his players in situations where they may not be the most comfortable. For McMichael, this has allowed him to be more of a defensive force in his own zone. Tied atop the OHL in power-play goals, the Capitals prospect has also been seen killing penalties. It is this attention to detail in all aspects of a player’s development that has made Hunter so victorious.
“Not every player comes into camp and can be a top-six scoring forward,” said McMichael. “Dale wants me to adapt to a different role and to embrace any role I’ve been given.”
During selection camp practices, Hunter does not put himself into the center of attention. He is often in the background, discussing drills with a small group of players. When the players are completing their tasks, Hunter does not raise his voice or act in an aggressive manner. When he speaks, the players and personnel listen, as every word uttered is of great importance.
Sudbury Wolves forward and top 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Quinton Byfield appreciates this quality about Hunter. Having worked with the Knights head coach at the Canada/Russia series, the 17-year-old is aware that Hunter expects a lot of effort and skill for a full 60 minutes. While Byfield may not be on one of the top two scoring lines for Team Canada, he believes that he can use his size and speed to make a noticeable impact in a Hunter system.
“They are really great coaches,” said Byfield after his first practice Tuesday morning. “It would be a great experience to play under them and to represent Hockey Canada.”
The head coach position for Canada’s World Junior team is highly sought after but even harder to keep. In the last ten years, The Canadian team has only won two gold medals. While it speaks to an increased amount of parity amongst the participating countries, having a strong, experienced leader at the head coach position can inspire a team to greatness.
While the Hockey Canada management group wants to shift the attention to this year, it is hard to ignore last year’s quarter-final exit. The worst result on home soil in this decade. Regardless of where Canada places in the Czech Republic, Hunter will put out a team that believes in each other and will work tirelessly to wear down their opponents with speed and skill.
Winning the number of times Dale Hunter has done with the London Knights while producing a plethora of top-tier NHL talent, is not by accident. His formula has worked and will continue to shine on Canada’s brightest junior hockey stage.
“Dale brings a lot of calmness,” said Head of the Management Group Mark Hunter. “The respect he holds behind the bench is something that not a lot of coaches have. He’s not an in your face kind of coach. He gets his point across through ice time and being in the dressing room.”