Former Capitals head coach Dale Hunter earned his 500th career win in the Ontario Hockey League last weekend, becoming the fastest coach in OHL history to reach the milestone.
Hunter’s London Knights beat the Saginaw Spirit 3-2 in overtime on Saturday in the penultimate game of the regular-season as Hunter became the eighth member of the OHL’s 500-win club.
After leaving the Knights in Nov. 2011 to become head coach of the Capitals, Hunter returned to London this season and led the Knights to an OHL-best 50-13-5 record and an eighth division title in ten years.
“It means a lot,” Hunter said of the 500-win milestone in a phone interview with CSNWashington.com.
“It’s like any organization, it’s no different than the Caps where you have ownership and then you have management and they hire the scouts that bring in the players. And that’s what our [Knights] organization is about and that makes it easier as a coach when you have the entire structure of your organization in place and it’s one of the best. So when a coach goes there on the bench and wins, that’s a [reflection] of the whole team starting from the top right down to the scouts that bring the players in.”
Hunter and his brother Mark purchased the Knights in 2000 and have since turned the club into a model franchise in Canadian junior hockey.
In addition to eight division titles, the Knights have also won two OHL championships (2005 and 2012) and one Memorial Cup (2005) as champions of the 60-team Canadian Hockey League.
Hunter himself has a career regular-season coaching record of 501-204-21-43 in the OHL and says that he has no regrets over his decision to return to junior hockey rather than stay with the Capitals in the NHL.
“It’s been good and it’s been exciting,” he said. “We have a good bunch of kids here, we have some [projected] high picks in the upcoming [NHL] draft, we’ve got a young team but they play well and it’s enjoyable. You’re coaching and for me right now the difference is that the pros, they don’t make the mistakes that these kids make and it’s my job to correct them.”
Hunter says that his 74-game tenure with the Capitals (regular-season and playoffs combined) taught him to be a better coach and that his current players in London are reaping the benefits.
“I played a long time but by going back to coach [in the NHL] you remember what it takes to play [at that level]. You kind of forget sometimes just how it hard it is to play in the National Hockey League and what you have to correct to play in the top league and definitely I’ve brought that experience back here to help these kids get to that next level.
“When you’re coaching in the National Hockey League, they’re the best in the world and all of the coaches that you go up against are the best in the world and it pushes you up another level to be a better.
The Knights finished the regular-season with the best record in the OHL for the second straight year and will open their best-of-seven first-round playoff series against Saginaw on Friday.
Coming up on Thursday on CSNWashington.com: Part Two of our conversation with Dale Hunter as he shares his thoughts on leaving the Capitals after last season and what he sees from the club under first-year head coach Adam Oates.