“I don’t mind it. It’s one of those things where I’ve been in that position my whole life.”
Brad Hunt knows he was an underdog coming into Oilers training camp. In fact, the defenceman has played the underdog role his whole career, dating back to when he was just a small kid learning hockey.
So when Hunt walked into the Oilers locker room on Sunday before practice and saw a jersey hanging there in his stall, he quietly savoured the moment.
“I just saw my jersey hanging in the dressing room and didn’t want to ask any questions,” Hunt said. “I just wanted to step on the ice and just take it all in.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers |
Hunt has survived the roster reductions so far, giving him an opportunity to be with the team on opening night this Thursday. Hunt might not have been expected by many to have made it this far.
“I think if anybody in our organization was to tell you that they thought he would still be here then it might be a little bit of a fib,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said following the team’s final pre-season game in Vancouver.
But Hunt proved some wrong and has earned every bit of this opportunity. He opened the eyes of the Oilers coaches and management at training camp and seemed to take off in the latter half of pre-season. He showed the power play prowess that earned him American Hockey League Second-Team All Star recognition last season. He finished the year with 50 points (11-39-50) in 66 games with the Oklahoma City Barons.
“All I can do is thank them for the opportunity,” Hunt said. “Now it’s my job to show how I can play and show them they made the right decision. I’m super happy to be here and I just want to come into the season with a great start and help this team win some games.”
When the Oilers acquired veteran defencemen Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie this summer, the moves were expected to increase the competition and cut down on the number of spots available on the team’s blueline. Adding to the competition was the continued development of young and talented prospects like Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin. Hunt would have been on the outside looking in, according to some.
|Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images |
“In the summer there are always things on your mind, especially with all of these great players that they signed,” Hunt said. “You always want to be positive with yourself and telling yourself good things and that comes from my family too. They’ve always (said) I’ve got a chance. It’s the people around you that help you with that positivity. I’ve always been kind of an underdog and I’m just so ecstatic to be in this position right now and it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
Giving Hunt a shot in the NHL was one of the reasons the Oilers have assigned Aulie and Marincin to Oklahoma City to start the year. Whether Hunt expected something like that to happen or not wasn't something he really focused on.
“I tried not to think about it too much. You look at the names and you know who’s here, but I just wanted to go on the ice and worry about the things I can control. That’s what I did on the ice, worked hard, worked smart and just tried to do the little things right and tried to get better every day. As for, did I expect this? In my mind, I wanted it to happen and I can’t say I really expected it just because of all the names that are in here, but I’m super ecstatic to be in this position. I want to do the best job I can to help the team win.”
Hunt earned a three-game stint with the Oilers last year, but this opportunity is different. That being said, Hunt is not sitting comfortably with his position now knowing it can change in a moment.
“This is an unbelievable experience and a dream come true really,” he said. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, play in the NHL. I haven’t made anything yet, but I’m so happy to still be here and I just want to get off to a good start to the season and play with lots of confidence.”
Playing with confidence propelled Hunt to a strong finish to last season. It helped him impress at camp and stick with the Oilers thus far. Now Hunt is hoping that playing with confidence will keep him here.
“It’s just one day at a time now. I just want to come in and do the best job that I can, take it day by day and get better every day and help the team win.”