One of the NHL’s great villains will be in the building at the First Niagara Center tonight although he’ll be wearing a coat and tie and not a jersey and skates. It has nothing to do with an injury either. Despised as a player because of his style, Dale Hunter will be behind the bench for the Washington Capitals in his 12th game as head coach.
Hunter took over when the Caps fired Bruce Boudreau earlier this month, shortly after a loss to the Sabres when it looked like the Caps had quit playing for Boudreau. Hunter has been charged with waking up an underachieving team that just last season won the President’s Trophy. Washington comes out of the Christmas break in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 36 points, 1 ahead of the Sabres. The Caps, who lost 23 games in regulation all last season have already dropped 14.
Washington could use Dale Hunter the player more than they can use Hunter the coach. Hunter was one of those guys who you would absolutely hate, until the day your team traded for him. He is the 2nd most penalized player in NHL history with 3,565 minutes. Only Dave “Tiger” Williams spent more time in the penalty box.
Hunter is also remembered for one of the worst cheap shots in league history. In the first round of the 1993 playoffs, former Sabre and then New York Islander Pierre Turgeon stole the puck from Hunter and scored a goal that basically sealed a game 6 win over Hunter’s Capitals. An enraged Hunter hit Turgeon from behind well after the goal as Turgeon was preparing to celebrate with his teammates. Turgeon suffered a separated shoulder and would miss all but 1 game of the next 2 rounds for the Isles. Hunter was given a 21 game suspension, which at that time was the longest suspension for an on ice incident.
But Hunter had some skill too. He recorded nine 20 goal seasons over the course of his 19 year career. He ended up with more than 300 goals and 1000 points. In fact he is the only NHL player to ever top 1000 points and 3000 penalty minutes. Hunter even made an All Star game in 1997. His jersey number 32 was retired by the Capitals where he spent 12 of his 19 years and once served as team captain.