Former Capitals captain Dale Hunter has long been considered among the best coaches in Canadian junior hockey. It may not be long before he ranks among the best junior coaches in the world.
On Saturday Hunter capped off his international coaching debut with a gold medal as Canada beat the United States 4-0 in the final of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial men’s under-18 tournament.
Hunter was named head coach of Canada’s U-18 team in June and led the Canadians to a 4-1 record at the six day tournament held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
"When you put the Canadian sweater on, there's a lot of pride," Hunter told reporters after the gold medal game. "These kids here had a lot of pride and that's what they're going to bring when the (under-18) world championships come next year."
Hunter is one of eight coaches with 500 career wins in the Ontario Hockey League and his London Knights have won six of the last ten OHL regular-season titles. But even with his OHL coaching success and a brief stint as Capitals bench boss in 2011-12, Hunter had never before been offered a coaching position from Hockey Canada.
“I think when you look at Dale’s record in junior hockey, there are very few coaches who have been able to achieve what he’s been able to achieve at this stage of his career,” analyst Craig Button told TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto. “He’s an outstanding coach, he does great work with young players and he gets teams to play their capabilities.”
While former NHL head coach Brent Sutter will lead Canada at next year’s World Junior Hockey Championships, Hunter has expressed interest in leading Canada in future WJC competitions. According to Button, the job that Hunter did this week in leading Canada to a U-18 gold could go a long in securing future work on the international stage.
“This is his first time coaching in the Team Canada program but there’s no question that it won’t be his last,” Button said. “I have no doubt in my mind that the day that when he is the head coach of the world junior entry is probably a lot closer than we may think.”