Craig Berube and Dale Hunter were enemies long before they became friends.
Oh, yeah, we had our battles, Berube told CSNwashington.com. We werent friends at all. Those games between the Flyers and Caps were spirited and mean.
Those are two words often used to describe Berube and Hunter, who will be on opposing benches Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. Berube, 45, is an assistant coach with the Flyers. Hunter, 51, is in his third week as head coach of the Capitals.
As players, the two were heated rivals until 1993, when Berube signed with the Capitals and spent the next six years as Hunters teammate.
We were real tight when we played together, Berube said. Wed hang out together ride to the rink together. He was a great guy and a great player and I learned a lot being around him. I think I knew I wanted to become a coach from hanging around with him. We talked a lot of hockey. We knew wed start coaching when we were done.
Hunter worked as the Caps director of player development before taking the job as head of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in 2001. Berube cut his coaching teeth with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms in 2006 before making the jump to the NHL as an assistant coach.
Flyers president Peter Luukko said he first met Hunter when the Flyers parent company, Comcast Spectacor, was negotiating the rights to manage the London Knights new arena, the John Labatt Centre, in 2002.
Theyre tough farm boys, Luukko said of Hunter and his brother, Mark, co-owners of the Knights. They dont leave any crumbs for anybody. Theyre tough as nails, but very honest and very loyal.
Luukko and Berube said they always knew that when Hunter was ready to coach in the NHL, it would be with the Capitals. In fact, Luukko often told Hunter he would be the only coach in the history of the OHL to take a pay cut to coach in the NHL.
Hes making a big move, but Dale is so ultra-competitive and he probably thought, OK, now I want to do it at this level. Luukko said. Everybody talks about how Dale was a tough player and he is a no-nonsense guy, but he is very much a players coach.
Luukko said he recalls Hunter skating with the Knights healthy scratches and working on ways to get them back in the lineup.
Luukko and Berube said Hunters experience with some of the NHLs most talented players he coached Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Patrick Kane in London will serve him well with the Capitals, and both say if anyone can get Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to play at an elite level, its Hunter.
Top players want to play, and youve got to get them out on the ice, Berube said. You dont want to burn them out, but they want to be out in key situations and Dale has always done that and I think hell get the most out of his top guys there.
You can only hold back those types of players to a certain extent. I think youve got to let them go and let the make their plays. But theyve got to be team players, and thats what I think Dales going to try to get across most of all.
As for someday working together again, Berube said hes perfectly happy in Philadelphia but did not rule out the possibility of reuniting with Hunter.
Ive got it pretty good here, but maybe one day well end up working together. You never know.