Tim Hunter is the latest coach with ties to the Capitals organization to return to Washington. He joins new head coach Adam Oates along with fellow assistant Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig, the team’s associate goalie coach.
All three played for Hunter and Ron Wilson when the team went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. They are together again on Oates’ staff for the 2012-13 season after Hunter was hired on Monday – 15 years to the day he was first hired by general manager George McPhee to join Wilson’s staff as a first-year assistant coach.
“I’ve been a part of four NHL organizations and three NHL organizations as a coach and you always have a bit of a tattoo on yourself of each organization you’ve taken part with,” Hunter said during a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon.
The 51-year-old took a break from the NHL last season after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs following the 2009-10 season. Hunter spent the year coaching midget hockey at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C. But the Caps had a need for experience behind the bench. Oates was an assistant for three seasons with New Jersey and Tampa Bay. Johansson has just one season of coaching experience as an assistant with his hometown club in Sweden, Frolunda.
Hunter is a 13-year veteran, breaking into the ranks with Wilson in Washington and following his boss to San Jose and then Toronto before Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke ordered Wilson to make changes to his coaching staff. He’s been through the wars.
“Every organization needs experience whether it’s in management, scouting, with the players,” Hunter said. “It’s the same with coaching. You need experience on a coaching staff. I talked to Adam early on and he was looking for someone with experience and I definitely have that. I’m a career assistant coach and I’m looking forward to helping Adam and Calle become better coaches and the Caps to become a better team.”
Hunter credited his development as a coach to Wilson and former assistant Tim Army, the other member of that Caps’ staff from 1997 to 2002. Army later was a head coach in the AHL, coached Providence College for six years and returned to the NHL last season as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche. As the years went on, Wilson gave Hunter more and more responsibility behind the bench.
Hunter said he hopes to provide Johansson with that same guidance. Learning how to prepare is crucial. Kolzig said last week that will be the biggest challenge Johansson faces. A long-time NHL defenseman, he knows the sport and he is well-spoken. But the day-to-day grind of watching video and creating lessons for your players takes some work. Hunter agrees with that – to an extent.
“But the most important thing is how you treat the players. I got into this to treat the players the way I like to be treated,” Hunter said. “You always have to separate the player from the person. If he’s had a bad game, he’s not a bad guy. There’s just things that happen. You have to make the players come to the rink and enjoy coming to the rink and enjoy working hard. It’s not fun at times, but they have to enjoy it and they have to take pleasure in working hard and becoming good professionals every day.”
Fair to say the tight-lipped style of Dale Hunter, who quit as head coach after the season to return to junior hockey, is out the window. Oates and Johansson are both reportedly strong communicators. Hunter emphasized in his phone call the importance of getting to know the players as people. The Calgary native said he kept as tight tabs on the organization as he could last season.
“I watched the Caps closely being a former Caps and a fan as well,” Hunter said. “They have tremendous potential and that’s our job to make sure they reach that potential. As I mentioned earlier, some exciting, talented players on defense and lots of talent up front. Again, making sure they come to the rink enjoying working hard and enjoying success is what our job will be.”
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