Patrick Roy should weigh what he would give up against what he would gain if he decides to leave a sweet set-up in junior hockey to become an NHL coach, according to Dale Hunter, a man who knows both ends of that situation.
Roy, the co-owner, general manager and head coach of the junior Quebec Remparts, is believed to be a candidate for the vacant job of head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, although neither side has confirmed they have even spoken. His success in Quebec City may also make him attractive to other clubs needing a coach, if not in Montreal.
For Roy, it would mean leaving a club he has built into a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League power since retiring from a Hall of Fame goaltending career.
“To coach in the NHL is a privilege,” Hunter said Sunday at the Bionest Centre, where his London Knights are competing in the Mastercard Memorial Cup. “But Patrick has to do what’s best for him and his family.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s the top league in the world. It’s fun coaching elite players. If you’re ready to make the commitment, you should go.”
The co-owner and former coach of the Ontario Hockey League champion Knights is acting as adviser at the tournament to his brother Mark, the head coach.
The 51-year-old opted to return to his junior team after a heady six months behind the bench of the Washington Capitals, whom he took to Game 7 of the second round of playoffs after he replaced the fired Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28.
He could have stayed on, but two days after the Caps were eliminated, he announced he would return to London to be with his kinsfolk and tend to the team and the family farm.
“You have to weigh both sides of it,” he said. “I weighed the other way and that’s why I’m back here.
“It was a tough decision, but I thought it over and I think it was the right decision to come back home.”
Hunter, who began the season as the Knights’ coach, took the Washington job partly out of loyalty to a club where he played for 12 seasons, where he was captain and where his No. 32 jersey is retired.
The hard-nosed Hunter played 1,407 games from 1980 to 1999, piling up 1,020 points and a massive 3,565 penalty minutes. He played against Roy for much of his career, which started with seven seasons with the defunct Quebec Nordiques until he was traded to the Caps in 1987.
The deal from the start with Washington was that he would coach until the end of the season and then both sides would decide if he should stay on. Hunter opted to go home.
He said Roy should be prepared for a different experience if he decides to jump to a NHL team.
“It’s the NHL, so you have to put more time in,” he said. “Patrick has to make that decision.
“It’s enjoyable. You’re playing against the best players in the world. We had a good run in the playoffs. Too bad we lost in the seventh game, but I enjoyed it.”
It is also a different job.
Junior players must also go to school, so usually they practice during the week and play games on weekends. NHL clubs travel much more and play more games, so less time is spent in practice and more on video sessions to study opposing teams.
The Hunter brothers have built an elite program in London, regularly turning out NHL talent. Dale Hunter was behind the bench of the 2005 team that won the Memorial Cup on home ice, with Corey Perry, Dave Bolland, Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust on his roster. They blanked a Rimouski Oceanic side led by Sidney Crosby 4-0 in the final.
The Knights didn’t miss a beat when Dale left and Mark Hunter took over as head coach.
“The team’s style and system are very close,” said Mark. “Maybe I’m a little more emotionally into it and Dale’s a little calmer, but that’s about it.”
Dale had a 30-23-7 regular season record with the Capitals. Then they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the opening round of playoffs before falling in seven to the New York Rangers.
The Knights opened the Memorial Cup by checking the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs into submission in a 5-3 win.
Hunter drew attention for getting the Capitals’ collection of star players led by Alex Ovechkin to play the physical, defensive style that made the Knights successful, and for severely cutting Ovechkin’s ice time in many games.
Hunter said it was simply using the former NHL MVP to best advantage.
“In the last game, we were down a goal and he played 20 minutes or so,” he said. “When we’re up a goal, we have shot blockers and they get to play at the end.
“That’s the only time he didn’t play as much. I didn’t need Ovi breaking a foot blocking a shot because I needed him for the next game.”
Hunter also expressed support for the NHL to return to Quebec City, which has been without a team since the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995. Quebec fans adored Hunter, who scored the decisive goal to oust the rival Canadiens from the 1982 playoffs.
“I think they will eventually get a team,” he said. “You see the excitement in Winnipeg.
“It’s jammed, and it’s hard to play in there. I can vouch for that personally. And Quebec would be the same way. It’s a great hockey town. It will be an awesome franchise down the road whenever they can get a team.”