Two days after leading the Capitals to a Game 7 defeat to the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Dale Hunter has decided to walk away.
In a 10 a.m. meeting at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Hunter, 51, informed Capitals general manager George McPhee that he will be returning to his role as co-owner and team president of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
I guess we're all fathers and sons and husbands first, before anything else, McPhee told reporters shortly after his meeting with Hunter, and if we have our priorities right in this life, family comes first. Dale needs to go home.
Hunters entire family lives in or around London and it was clear from his comments Monday that his heart never left his family farm or the team he spent the past 12 years building with his brother and co-owner, Mark.
Hunter said his 76-year-old father still scouts for the Knights and his sisters attend every game. In the summers they all tend to the family farm in Petrolia, Ontario, about an hour away from London.
Everybody is a part of the team there, the farm is there, Hunter said. Were all a part of it there. Youve just got to go home.
McPhee said he there was no point in trying to convince Hunter to stay with the Caps because there is no gray area with Dale.
He's very decisive, McPhee said. The only thing I asked Dale was, Does this have anything to do with anything that's going on here? And he said, Absolutely not. He loved it here. This is his team. This has always been his team. It's the only team he's ever wanted to coach.
Several Capitals said they were surprised to hear of Hunters decision. Brooks Laich said he was shocked and tried to convince Hunter to stay. Joel Ward did not know of Hunters decision until he was informed by reporters.
He taught us as much about leadership and team aspects and respect amongst players and trusting your teammates as he did about hockey, Laich. He was like having another veteran in the locker room. He changed the culture around here a little bit, which the rest of us really enjoyed. Hes leaving the team in a better state than he found it -- I think thats the best way to sum it up.
Hired to replace Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28, Hunter went 30-23-7 in the regular season and 7-7 in the playoffs. He angered veterans like Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine by scratching them from the lineup at various points in the season, but somehow managed to get his players to play as one in the post-season.
He morphed this team into a very respectable team, defenseman Karl Alzner said. Other teams maybe gave us more credit than they had in the past few years. He was a bit of an architect himself the way he taught the game. All he taught us was to be honest and work hard.
Hunter said he felt the Capitals really bought into his defensive style on March 8 when they battled back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on goals by Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin.
There were a couple of games where we were being too fancy and trying to outscore teams instead of outplaying teams and playing at both ends, Hunter said. But we came back and we beat Tampa Bay and we had to grind it out to do it. They were playing that defensive style of game, so the guys had to chip it in and chase and the guys got it done.
And then each game we built and got better and better from it.
McPhee said Hunter will assist the team at the draft and Hunter said hell do whatever is asked to lead the team to its first-ever championship.
Id love to bring a Stanley Cup here and the fans deserve it here, Hunter said. Theyve been great. My dad doesnt travel too much anymore but he came down during the regular season and couldnt believe how loud it was. So he had to come back down during the playoffs to see it even louder.
The fans are great, the team is playing the right way, theyre playing Stanley Cup hockey. They have a chance to win playing this style and you see them taking the top team to seven games and beating Boston. If you see the teams that are left, they all play hard and Im proud of these guys for sacrificing and doing what it takes to win. We came up a goal short but not because of lack of effort.