Ten days ago, head coach Mark Hunter strode onto the London Knights bus proud of his players for their sweep of the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL West final and then celebrated again on the ride home.
The Knights bus has satellite television and there was more hockey to watch. On the tube was Game 7 of the first-round series between the Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins. This game, of course, had special interest for Mark because his older brother Dale just happens to be the Capitals coach.
A few minutes down the highway toward London the bus erupted when Joel Ward scored in overtime for Washington. After all, Dale began the year as the Knights bench boss.
These are strange, but exciting times for the Hunters. They're used to working alongside each other with the Knights. But last fall, when Dale's old NHL team came calling he was convinced to give the NHL a try, and after some struggles he has the Capitals headed in the right direction.
"Dale has done a good job," Mark Hunter said. "It's not easy. I really got annoyed earlier when a so-called analyst called Dale the worst coach of the year. I was upset. It really bothered me. I didn't like it. These people should be held accountable for what they say.
"Dale has won 450 games in 12 seasons here. He's coached good players and made them better, and he has turned average players into good ones."
When the Knights don't play Mark has kept a watchful eye on the Capitals and other developments in the NHL. When the Capitals have the night off, Dale has tuned into Knights games on his computer. The two keep in touch every other day, too, to keep each other abreast of their situations.
"Like any coach, Dale went through some tough times with the Capitals as he tried to convince them to play his way," the 49-year-old Mark Hunter said of his 51-year-old brother Dale. "He's got his players playing the way he wants them to right now,"
Having their hands full
When Dale departed for Washington, Mark, the Knights general manager, added the head coaching duties to his portfolio. He has spent the past few seasons alongside Dale on the Knights bench as an assistant coach, but he had not been a head coach since he guided the Sarnia Sting in 1999-2000.
"It was different for me," Mark said. "It's something that is not new to me, but I have been used to being the general manager, doing a lot of scouting."
Mark and Dale have their hands full with their respective teams. The Knights dropped the OHL final series opener to the Niagara IceDogs in double overtime on Thursday, a day after the Capitals lost in triple overtime to the New York Rangers to fall behind 2-1 in their second-round series.
The Knights need to win the OHL championship series to advance to their first Memorial Cup since the Hunters led them to the 2004-05 title at home in London.
Whether or not the Capitals can prevail against the Rangers, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether Dale, who doesn't have a contract to coach next season, will return to Washington or London.
"If you know Dale you know he is totally focused on winning now and that's it," Mark Hunter said. "I really don't know what he wants to do. Hopefully, the Capitals will come back and beat the Rangers and he won't have to make that decision until later."
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