Dale Hunter certainly doesn’t have the offensive production or marketability of players like Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya or Mark Messier. But the Washington Capitals center does have something in common with these National Hockey League superstars. He too wears a “C” on his jersey signifying he is the leader who players on his squad should be looking up to, seeking guidance from and trying to emulate in one form or another.
It’s a good thing Hunter has the support of his teammates. Judging from the way he conducts himself on the ice, Hunter probably doesn’t receive hordes of Christmas cards from players on opposing squads. Hunter, a 17–year pro, has always been one of those in–your–face players who others hate lining up against while secretly wishing he was a teammate.
“It means a lot to me to be the captain of the Washington Capitals,” said Hunter, who is in his third season of wearing the “C” for the Caps. “It’s an honor but also a big responsibility.”
Hunter, who turns 37 on July 31, has spent his entire pro career in just two cities. His first seven NHL campaigns were with the Quebec Nordiques, the franchise which has since relocated to Denver. And this marks his 10th season with the Capitals.
“Playing in the National Hockey League is a great honor,” said Hunter, who entered this season having accumulated 1,047 points and a whopping 3,879 penalty minutes in 1,327 regular season and playoff games. “I’ve been lucky enough to continue it for a long period of time.”
There’s no real secret to his longevity in the league. It’s just been plenty of hard work, combined with some hard work and with some more hard work thrown in. Hunter’s strong work ethic can be traced to when he was a youngster growing up on a farm in Petrolia, Ontario.
"Dad always demanded that when I went to the rink I had to work hard because it took up a lot of time,” said Hunter, who was the Nordiques’ second –round pick, 41st overall, in the talent–rich 1979 NHL Entry Draft. “That’s what I still try to do -- go out there and work hard but still have fun with it.”
Despite his NHL successes, Hunter has remained a laid–back person and continues to return to his roots. During the off–seasons he ventures back to the family farm along with wife Karynka and their three children.
Hunter never thought he’d find himself participating in an NHL All-Star game. But that’s exactly what he did earlier this year when the league’s best players converged in San Jose.
Hunter didn’t receive enough votes from fans to be in the starting lineup of the All–Star match. Nor was he invited to take part by the All–Star game coaching staffs. Instead he was there since he was personally selected to take part by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Hunter’s selection was especially surprising since in 1993 Bettman had imposed a 21–game suspension on Hunter for a cheap shot delivered during a playoff game. Hunter slammed then, New York Islander Pierre Turgeon into the boards after he had scored a goal. The suspension was served at the start of the following regular season.
Hunter suited up for the Eastern Conference All Stars who defeated their Western Conference counterparts 11–7. “It was a lot of fun,” Hunter said of the game. “I brought my kids with me and they really enjoyed it so it was just a great experience.”
One thing Hunter has not accomplished during his lengthy career is the goal of all NHLers—winning a Stanley Cup.
“It would be nice to win it,” he said. “You always want to win a Stanley Cup. As a kid growing up you always watched the Stanley Cup playoffs in April and May and always got pretty excited about it. It’s one of those things you want to get really bad.”
With the Capitals, the closest Hunter has come to advancing to the Stanley Cup finals was in 1990. That year Washington made it to the playoff semi–final round before being swept 4–0 in a best–of–seven series against the Boston Bruins. Hunter was his inspirational self that playoff season and in 15 games collected 12 points (four goals, eight assists) despite being tagged for 61 penalty minutes. Hunter, who also advanced to the playoff semi–final rounds twice with the Nordiques, in 1982 and 1987, doesn’t know how many more opportunities he’ll have to win hockey’s Holy Grail. “I only play one year at a time and see how I feel,” he said. “I just try to stay away from injuries and then see how I feel.”