WILMINGTON, Mass. — Jared Knight never wavered from rooting for the team he hopes to soon play for, but he admitted that watching this past spring’s NHL playoffs did create a bit of an awkward situation.
The Bruins forward prospect began the year playing his fourth season for London of the Ontario Hockey League. It was also his fourth season playing for London coach Dale Hunter.
But Hunter left the Knights midway through the season to coach the Washington Capitals, the same team that the Bruins ended up being matched against in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a seven-game slugfest with all seven games decided by a single goal, Hunter’s Capitals emerged triumphant with an overtime victory in Game 7 at the Garden to end Boston’s quest to defend the Cup.
“It was weird,” Knight said after Thursday’s opening session of the Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena. “I was still rooting for the Bruins, but it was good to see him go far. I thought the Bruins played well, but that’s the way it goes some times.”
Hunter may have helped end the Bruins’ season, but Knight credits his former coach for putting him on the path to what he hopes will be a long career in the NHL.
“He was a tough guy,” Knight said. “It was just the way he played. He’s a hard-nosed guy and that’s the way he coached. He didn’t take any crap. He was hard on the players, but he expected a lot from us and I learned a lot from him.”
Hunter put together quite a resume as a player, piling up 1,020 points and 3,563 penalty minutes in 1,407 NHL games with Quebec, Washington and Colorado. He’s had plenty of success as a coach in London as well. Hunter stepped down from the Capitals job after Washington was eliminated by the Rangers in the second round to return to London, where he co-owns the OHL franchise he’s run for the past 12 years.
While Knight has finished his junior career and will be moving on to the pro ranks this season, Hunter will be back guiding the next set of hockey hopefuls in London.
“He played in the NHL, he coached in the NHL, so he’s been through it all,” Knight said. “He really knows what to expect and really helped us out in that respect.”
A bit of that approach has rubbed off on Knight, who put up 26-26-52 totals in 52 games last season before battling through an ankle injury to lead London to the OHL title and the final of the Memorial Cup. So while Hunter may have helped end Boston’s season a little early this past April, he also helped mold a kid who might help the Bruins enjoy some longer spring runs in the future.