-- One thing made clear by Dale Hunter
on his first day as head coach of the Washington Capitals
is that players will be held accountable regardless of name.
"I'm a players coach,” Hunter said Monday, "but also the players will know when I'm mad at them. I'm stern on them because that's the way you have to be to win games. Everybody makes mistakes out there, but if they keep making the same mistakes there will be repercussions.”
Nash has high regard for new Caps' coach
spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights playing for head coach Dale Hunter
before earning a spot with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets
Nash knew it was only a matter of time before his former coach would be hired by an NHL team. That happened Monday, when Washington Capitals
general manager George McPhee
replaced Bruce Boudreau
with Hunter, arguably the most successful Canadian Hockey League coach during the past decade.
"It's a good move for Washington because Dale was a great coach," Nash told NHL.com. "We had great success in London [in my two years there]. He's a players' coach. He holds guys accountable and I had a great relationship there with him. I'm sure the top guys there will have the same thing."
Nash played for Hunter in 2000-01 and 2001-02, producing 63 goals and 138 points in 112 games. He received the Emms Family Award as the OHL's top rookie in 2000-01 when he scored 31 goals and 66 points in 58 games. Nash was selected No. 1 in the 2002 NHL Draft by the Blue Jackets and joined the club the following season.
"The biggest thing Dale did for me was that he treated the London Knights like a pro team," Nash said. "So, it got the young junior guys ready for the NHL. Most of the coaches these days are former players and they understand the players so that's something I think he'll be able to work off of now that he is an NHL coach. He'll be able to relate to all his players."
-- Mike G. Morreale
According to Caps defenseman John Carlson
, who played for Hunter with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights in 2008-09, that's more than just coach speak.
"I think I was one of the better players on my team,” Carlson said, "and I certainly didn't get a free pass, so I don't see much changing there.”
Hunter spent parts of 11 years coaching the OHL's Knights, winning three Matt Leyden Trophies as Coach of the Year and the 2005 Memorial Cup as national champions.
Among the NHL players that passed through Hunter's team are Rick Nash
, Corey Perry
, Patrick Kane
and John Tavares
, but Carlson says that regardless of name, you played by Hunter's rules.
"Every practice if I wasn't on my game, I certainly wasn't going to go in the locker room like nothing happened and that's one thing that he did," Carlson said.
Accountability has been a commonly used term around this year's Capitals, going back to the first day of training camp when general manager George McPhee
and then-head coach Bruce Boudreau
spoke of the need to set a more serious tone around their team.
Signs of holding players accountable have been evident through the first two months of the season – from Boudreau's benching Alex Ovechkin
for lack of production, to his scratching Alexander Semin
for undisciplined play, to his scratching Joel Ward
for missing a team meeting.
Despite Boudreau's best efforts to shake up his team, the message appeared to be falling on deaf ears.
"A lot of the guys that have been here for four or five years,” defenseman Dennis Wideman
said, "they've had the same coach and it's like everywhere else- when you get some change and you get something new, it maybe adds a little life.”
Like Carlson, Wideman is also a London Knights alum, having played for Hunter from 2001-04.
"He's intense but fair,” Wideman said of Hunter. "He's a guy that likes to have fun, he likes to joke around but you better work. He's got his ideas of how he wants to play and you better play that way or he's going to let you know about it. He's a guy that likes to teach and I think he's going to show us a lot about how to play the game and we just have to be ready to work hard.”
Carlson was already a Capitals prospect when he played his one season for Hunter in the OHL and the former Caps captain provided general manager George McPhee
with frequent updates on Carlson's progress.
Wideman meanwhile was still seven years away from joining the Caps when he last suited up in the OHL. But when McPhee was close to acquiring Wideman from the Florida Panthers
last February, he sought the approval of a trusted confidant and placed a call to London, Ontario.
With Hunter's recommendation, McPhee went forward with the deal. Now nine months after that conversation, and nearly eight years since Hunter last coached Wideman the two met again Monday in the Caps locker room.
"It's always tough when someone loses his job or gets traded or whatever,” Wideman said, "but to have Dale here and knowing what he's going to bring is exciting. I think it's going to be a good fit here. We're going to change the way we play a little bit. I think hopefully it happens really quick but definitely very excited to have him here.”
Both Carlson and Wideman spoke of the likelihood of Hunter implementing a more defensive system than the Caps may have been accustomed to for the better part of Boudreau's time behind the bench.
Added Hunter: "We're going to be a hard team to play against. We'll be hard on the puck, a hard forecheck, really responsible defensively … Teams won't be able to run and gun on us. I don't believe in run-and-gun hockey. I believe in hard [work] and a good cycle leading to scoring chances.”