London or Washington?
On that Friday night last month, with the seats at J. Dee’s filled up and the Windsor Spitfires in town, the people assembled again to rally around the hockey club. In the background of the luxury boxes, the broadcast of the game — carried, as each game is, by local cable television, drawing more than 111,000 viewers on average — flickered away on fans who paid $8.25 for a Labatt Tall Boy, $9.75 for a large draft. The highlights on the scoreboard that hangs over center ice could be an NHL production.
“It gives us a taste of what the next level might be like,” said Jarred Tinordi, this year’s captain and the son of former Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi.
That particularly seemed true toward the tail end of a listless 4-1 loss. As the crowd filtered out, an old man yelled, “Nice effort, boys!” and walked into the night. This is a hockey town, and it expects its team to play a certain way.
Dale Hunter, too, expects his teams to play a certain way. He is doing it now at the highest level for a franchise with which he has real, deep roots. His roots here, though, are deep and real as well. The obvious question: Is there a way to say which he enjoys more?
“You see them go on and develop, there’s joy in that,” Hunter said one day after Capitals practice. “Here, the joy is winning. We’re here to win the Stanley Cup. That’s always the goal. That’s what it’s got to be.”
He used to coach boys and, he said, “father” them. He now coaches men. His contract lasts through the end of this season. Beyond that, there are no guarantees. Ask anyone in this town, though, if they could see Dale Hunter back behind the Knights’ bench, and the answer doesn’t vary.
“Oh, for sure,” Dylan Hunter said.
“He loves it,” said Donskov, the assistant general manager and coach.
That same night the Knights lost for just the third time in 14 games, the Capitals took an important victory at Florida. Both teams have their eyes on the playoffs. To an extent, Dale Hunter has his eyes on both teams, and the hockey fortunes and futures in two disparate cities are unexpectedly tied together.