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London assistant Donskov saw Hunter at his best

by Mike G. Morreale
If there's one thing Misha Donskov learned in his two seasons alongside Dale Hunter on the London Knights coaching staff, it's that Hunter has a knack for getting the most out of each of his players.

"Dale is a guy of a few words, but when he does speak, it's timely and powerful," Donskov told "The thing is, you only have so many silver bullets as a coach, but Dale knows what words to use and when … and he's very good at it."

That quality is something Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee hopes will be put to good use in his team's locker room now that Hunter has replaced Bruce Boudreau behind the bench.

For Hunter, becoming an NHL coach marks a new chapter in his career, and it all begins Tuesday in his debut against the St. Louis Blues in what is sure to be an energetic atmosphere at Verizon Center.


Boudreau's tenure comes to end

Adam Kimelman - Staff Writer
The Washington Capitals relieved head coach Bruce Boudreau of his duties Monday morning and replaced him with former NHLer and Capital fan favorite Dale Hunter. READ MORE ›
"I've worked for Dale for two-plus years and he's an outstanding hockey mind, an extremely passionate and very driven individual," Donskov said. "He's very focused on player development, first and foremost, in addition to winning. His track record speaks for itself. He's a winner, loves the game and loves to compete."

Hunter has coached the Knights since November 2001. His teams have won at least 49 games six times in his nine full seasons behind the bench, he's the fastest coach in OHL history to reach 300 and 400 regular-season wins, and he boasts the highest winning percentage in OHL history at .691 (451-189-23-24). He won the 2004 Brian Kilrea Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year award after guiding the Knights to a 59-7-2-0 regular-season record, 20-2-0-0 playoff record and the Memorial Cup.

"He's gained so much respect throughout the OHL -- a testament to that is really the number of players who regularly come back in the summer and even during the season when they play close to London to come and see Dale," Donskov said. "It really is a family here. Guys keep in touch because they all know how much Dale helped them get to where they are now."

During his time as Knights coach, the team won 50 or more games three times and finished first in the OHL four times. He's worked with current NHL players Dennis Wideman and John Carlson of Washington, Rick Nash of Columbus, Corey Perry of Anaheim, Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust of the New York Rangers, John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Patrick Kane of Chicago.

Donskov said Hunter will do whatever it takes to uncover what makes each player thrive and excel on the ice.

"Dale's the type of coach who wants to get to know his players and what makes them tick," he said. "He wants to know their families and wants to know what they do outside of the rink. He's certainly not afraid to make tough decisions. You have to earn your minutes and earn your ice time, and in order to do that you have to play the right way.

"You have to be responsible defensively and you have got to be a character guy … stand up for your teammates, block shots. These are all the things that he's preached over the years that have made the team successful."

Knights defenseman Scott Harrington told last January that Hunter really works hard in developing players and providing advice. The 6-foot, 200-pound Harrington, drafted in the second round (No. 54) by the Pittsburgh Penguins last June, has become one of the OHL's top blueliners.

"He really helped develop me a lot and gave a lot of advice," Harrington said. "His teams are a very tight group and we were able to gel as a team."

"Dale has had great success in London for many years," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who specializes in scouting the Ontario Hockey League, told "He always gets the most out of all his players. The power-play unit, especially, has been the best in junior hockey for many years. London has become one of the marquee franchises in the CHL because of the hard work of both (GM) Mark and Dale Hunter."

Hunter played 19 seasons in the NHL (1980-99), appearing in 1,407 games and collecting 1,020 points (323 goals, 697 assists), along with 3,565 penalty minutes, with Quebec, Washington and Colorado. He's one of just four players to have their numbers retired by the Washington Capitals -- his No. 32 was retired by the team March 11, 2000. Hunter captained the Capitals from the 1994-95 season until the 1998-99 season. He played in 872 games for the Caps from 1987-99, producing 181 goals and 556 points. He ranks first in franchise history with 2,003 penalty minutes.

Besides working with their team, Donskov said he and Hunter also discussed the previous night's NHL action. He said Hunter still had an insatiable appetite and curiosity with the League and its players.

"We taped two NHL games a night and we showed our kids," Donskov said. "We still show our kids NHL video on a daily basis. Dale was very big on video and he did a lot with NHL video because those are the best players in the world and they are a great example for young kids. He's very in tune to the League and what's going on in the NHL … the different styles and systems teams are playing."

Mark Hunter will step in behind the bench for the foreseeable future in London.

This past week, the Knights were ranked No. 1 in the BMO Canadian Hockey League MasterCard Top 10 rankings. Dale Hunter earned his 450th career win Saturday in a 7-2 victory against the Erie Otters. He became the 13th coach in OHL history to reach that mark.

That same day, the Capitals suffered a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, their eighth loss in 11 games (3-7-1), which dropped them into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"I'm very happy for him," Mark Hunter, Dale's brother and general manager of the Knights, told the London Free Press. "He deserves a shot. Look at his record here."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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