Welcome back Dale
Most Caps fans felt like Christmas came early today as Dale Hunter took to the ice at Kettler for his first practice as the new head coach of the Caps. Hunter is a legend to Caps fans and that is my biggest fear about him jumping from the OHL to the NHL as a head coach. I don't want anything to tarnish his legend. All day, I've alternated between insane excitement about Dale being here and that lingering fear about his place in Caps history if this goes awry. That fear won't go away -- I am a Caps fan, after all -- until I see how this unfolds.
I think this is GM George McPhee's last stand with owner Ted Leonsis and it's clear from McPhee's comments that he had to convince Ted this was the right direction. Either Dale works out or GMGM won't be GM for life anymore which, after thirteen years, is as it should be. It's far more patience than I would ever have had.
GMGM's been in contact with Dale, for years, while Dale amassed an impressive 451-189-23-24 (.691%) coaching record for the Ontario London Knights. His team made many playoff appearances, won one Memorial Cup and Dale won the Coach of the Year award. Everything I've read and listened to today about his coaching career and through following his team when John Carlson played there, makes me think Dale's a good choice for the Caps. But coaching teenagers, even in the world of rough and tumble Canadian junior hockey, is not like coaching adult multi-millionaires. They've got to want the Stanley Cup not think that they can win it on talent alone (cue Herb Brooks). That's the biggest task for Dale.
Now I have a new set of questions for the rest of this Cap season:
- Can Dale turn this team around and make them play hard-working, gritty, disciplined hockey like he did as a player? He gave it all every night. It would be nice if the Caps gave 75% on a consistent basis.
- Will he easily adapt to the NHL from the OHL?
- Will the players respond positively? Caps, just be warned, if you mess with Dale, you're going to face one angry fan base.
- Can Dale bring back Ovie's love of the game and competitive fire? Can he teach Ovie how to become a better and more mature player? Will Ovie take those lessons to heart?
"It's my team," Dale said in his press conference before laughingly saying it was really Ted's team. But, I like that thinking. And, getting his name on the Stanley Cup as the coach, since he was denied that honor as a player, would make all the misery of being a Caps fan go away in one game.
Let's go Caps!
P.S. Thank you Bruce Boudreau for a good ride for a while. I enjoyed the romp to the playoffs, your first year here, and that last game against Florida to get there was unreal, rocking the red at the phone booth. I've been hard on you, but I wish you luck in your future endeavors.