Mon Nov 28 10:45am EST
For nearly a decade, it's been impossible to imagine the London Knights without the irascible Dale Hunter as their love-to-hate driving force — but just like that, people will have to be used to London coming to town without him.
The reasons for Hunter leaving the London Knights to become a NHL head coach with the Washington Capitals are already well-established. He's going there to try to be what the fired Bruce Boudreau could not become: a disciplinarian. As far as the Ontario Hockey League-leading Knights are concerned, the big question is whether this will sap them of any of the swagger that makes them a lightning rod for fans across the Ontario Hockey League.
A guess here is probably not. There's still a Hunter coaching.
From Morris Dalla Costa:
As an owner of a franchise that is making money and winning, Hunter was in a position of waiting for something he felt comfortable with.
[General manager and part-owner] Mark Hunter wouldn't comment on how the situation came about except to say it happened quickly.
... Mark Hunter says he will take over coaching the team until the end of the year.
"I'm fine with it," Hunter says who has acted as Dale's assistant for several years. (London Free Press)
The coming weeks and months will tell a tale of how much Dale Hunter meant to the Knights. While some coaches act like robots behind the bench, he was a bigger-than-life figure. What team's fans don't consider the Knights a bitter rival in the OHL's Western Conference? People will miss seeing him get riled up on the bench.
The absence of Hunter behind the bench will require some adjustment. It will not change the animus fans across the OHL hold for the London Knights. They will still be one of the flagship big-market franchises in the league.
The only change this might lead to is with the course Mark Hunter takes. Perhaps it's all a smokescreen, but the Knights have not made it clear if in fact they are going to be a buyer at the OHL trade deadline, even with that gaudy 20-5-0-1 record. There have been thoughts that they might trade an older player or two and focus on building a better MasterCard Memorial Cup contender in a season or two down the line, when the young guns such as 16-year-old centre Max Domi and 17-year-old defenceman Olli Määttä, who will be more mature.
Having Mark Hunter at the coaching controls should not alter whatever those plans will be. He had been on the bench during games this season and he probably won't tinker much with his brother's systems. Coaching transitions in junior are not always as seamless as they're spun to be when the head coach moves up to the big leagues and the remaining staff all take one step to the right, so to speak. In 2010, the Windsor Spitfires assured everyone nothing would change when Bob Jones replaced Bob Boughner after he took a position with the Columbus Blue Jackets. You know how that turned out; Boughner ended up returning after one season. The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors don't have the same roster they did a season ago under Dave Cameron, who's now with the Ottawa Senators, but James Boyd's charges haven't quite had the same grim sense of purpose Cameron's teams radiated.
The Knights might be better positioned than others to absorb the change. It's doubtful this would throw the players off-kilter. Their routine will not change much, although London's twin forwards Matt and Ryan Rupert, billet at Dale Hunter's home. The players are smart enough to know the score. Coaches in junior want to get to The Show as badly as their teenagers charges do.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).