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Mark Hunter replaces brother Dale as head coach of the London Knights @NHLdotcom

LONDON, Ont. - The first person Dale Hunter called after becoming the new head coach of the Washington Capitals was his brother Mark.

It wasn't just to spread the good news. The two brothers ? who are part-owners of the OHL's London Knights ? had to come up with a new coach for the junior hockey team.

The siblings didn't look far. They decided to add "head coach" to Mark's title on top of being vice-president and general manager.

He immediately replaces Dale, who had coached the Knights to 451 regular-season wins over 11 seasons, including the 2005 Memorial Cup title.

"It's going to be different," Mark told a news conference Monday. "We have a good staff here. I feel comfortable with the group of coaches we have here ? it's a solid team."

London (20-5-0-1) has the best record in the OHL and is rated first in the Canadian Hockey League's weekly rankings.

Although not officially an assistant coach, Mark Hunter had been a regular presence on the bench this season along with Dale and Dylan Hunter ? Dale's son.

Mark Hunter is no stranger to the OHL, having coached the Sarnia Sting from 1994 to 1996 and from 1997 to 2000, collecting 155 wins. He was head coach of the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs for the 1996-97 season.

Still, he will have lots of help coping with his new responsibilities.

The Knights have a large staff that includes assistant coaches Dylan Hunter, Misha Donskov (also assistant GM), defence coach Rob Ramage, development coach Dave Warren, director of scouting Lindsay Hofford, goalie coach Bill Dark and Dr. Natasha Wesch, a part-time sports psychologist.

Donskov and Ramage were already on ice during practices and will continue to observe games from the press box.

However, Mark Hunter said that Donskov will now be seen on the bench more during games.

"I won't miss many practices. I believe that's the teaching tool," said Mark Hunter. "I'm going to put a little more pressure on Misha and Dylan. They will do a little more organizing practices. They already watch the tapes. Everybody always likes to have a little more to do and they're open for it."

The Hunters still need to figure out one important front office position ??? president.

Dale Hunter was team president in an ownership group that includes former NHLer Basil McRae. However, he'll presumably be replaced as he shifts his attention to the Capitals.

London played three games in as many days this past weekend, finishing in Brampton on Sunday. As a result, there were no players at the John Labatt Centre on Monday, giving the staff some time to re-organize.

"We don't plan on changing much, but we'll be watching game-by-game and if we have to tweak something, we will," said Mark Hunter.

"It's not like I'm coming in from upstairs. I've been on the bench. I have a pretty comfortable feel with how Dale was running things," said Mark. "Dale sometimes did a few things a little out of the box, but I think I have a good hockey mind to try things."

As for Dale Hunter, Mark says his brother is most certainly ready for the next level.

"It's anybody's dream to coach in the (NHL). It's well deserved by him. After 11 years here it's a great accomplishment for him. He's ready to go," said Mark, who added that Dale won two OHL coach of the year awards (2004 and 2005) and sent several players to the NHL, most notably Corey Perry, Dave Bolland, Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner and Steve Mason.

Mark Hunter also pointed out that Dale will be coaching London alum Dennis Wideman and John Carlson in Washington.

"It's something to be very proud of to see players go on to the NHL and do as well as they've done ??? like Corey Perry going up and winning the Hart Trophy," said Mark Hunter. "Winning is important to the organization, but developing players is even more important."

The Knights have exceeded expectations with a generally younger lineup including rookies Max Domi, Bo Horvat and first overall CHL import pick Olli Maatta from Finland.

Although confirming he is the head coach going forward, Mark Hunter was unable to say what his role will be in the long term.

"I think every year we look back and see if anything needs to be adjusted and analyze how we've done ????????? the coaches and the players," he said. "That is something we've always done and will continue to do with this hockey club."

Mark Hunter's NHL career included 628 games with Montreal, St. Louis, Calgary, Hartford and Washington, winning a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989.

In 19 years, Dale Hunter became the only NHL player to record more than 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes, playing 1,407 games plus 186 more in the playoffs.

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