This isn’t the only NHL locale that detests Dale Hunter. No way. The new Washington Capitals coach, a supreme pest in the 1980s and 90s, made enemies all over throughout a 19-year career in which he compiled 3,563 penalty minutes, No. 2 all-time.
But Buffalo, which faced Hunter’s Quebec Nordiques eight times each season and two straight Adams Division playoff series in the 1980s, has a special appreciation for his antics.
“It was the fans. It was always great battles, playoffs and stuff,” Hunter said Monday inside the First Niagara Center prior to Sabres’ 4-2 win over the Caps. “It’s a hockey town, and what’s better than being here tonight again?”
Hunter, who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28, downplayed his agitator past, saying, “That’s a long time ago.”
“When you come here, you know you play hard,” Hunter said. “Sometimes stuff happens out there.”
Hunter and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff fought once, Dec. 23, 1983 at Memorial Auditorium, according tohockeyfights.com. When the Caps hired Hunter, Ruff recalled the time he “woke up snoring” after the center leveled him.
“There’s a lot of history there, yeah. Some of it good, some of it bad – but that’s the type of player he was,” Ruff said. “He wasn’t an easy guy to play against.”
Hunter called Ruff a “competitor.”
“You know you’re in a game when Lindy’s around,” said Hunter, who left his job coaching the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights for his first NHL gig. “He’s going to finish his check hard and play hard out there. You expect it. That’s why you expect good battles.”
Hunter hasn’t had much of an impact on the underachieving Caps, for whom he played from 1987-99. They’re just 5-6-1 under him, scoring just one goal five times.