So the inevitable happened and it became appropriate for Dale Hunter to make his call. His call was to go back to the family farm in Petrolia, Ontario. Back to his ultimate dream job of running his team, his way.
I said it was inevitable for a reason. No one should be surprised by any of this. After all, if you think about it Hunter was helping out an old friend in need. And it just so happened that Hunter might have harbored thoughts of plying his trade in the big time, having already proven himself in the Canadian Junior leagues. Even so you got the feeling from the off that this was going to be a temporary arrangement at best. And so it was...by Hunter's choice as it turned out.
It was the media that assumed when Hunter first took over he was on a short leash. Oh how wrong they were. Oh how I'm enjoying how wrong they still are. Because you see if it's one thing I admire it's someone who does things their way...and never apologizes for it. Hunter not only pulled that off, he also walked away on his own terms. But it doesn't matter what the cynics in the hockey media choose to believe, Hunter accomplished what he set out to do. He changed the culture and the psychology of the team. We saw a completely different team both on the ice and in the locker room as a result.
Never mind that the problem with the team is whether or not that change of mindset sticks through next season and beyond. Never mind even that the transformation took almost too long to take root. He may not have even been the right guy for the time--there were certainly more qualified, accomplished, and experienced coaches available. But none of that matters now. Because for once this team has been shown what it can do if they believe they are greater than they are as individuals, and their best player led the way.
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't always eye-catching, and it certainly didn't make anybody go ooh and aah--unless you saw someone take a blocked shot in the tenders. But for a month and a half, it worked.
And now whoever remains on the team needs to follow the example, pull themselves up by the jock strap, and carry on. Because it only gets harder from here. But then if the Cup were easy to win, it wouldn't be worth winning, would it? Of course not.
Godspeed, Mr. Hunter. And it wouldn't surprise me one damn bit to see you chewing gum behind an NHL bench again someday.