The man who has helped build one of the most successful Canadian Hockey League teams is now in charge of Canada’s World Junior team.
Mark Hunter, co-owner and general manager of the London Knights, was named to Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence Management Team back in March. His brother, Dale, the Knights head coach, was named Team Canada bench boss soon after. Both men have twice won the Memorial Cup together, including on home ice in 2005 with a team that was named the CHL Team of the Century in 2018. The Knights also won the Memorial Cup in Red Deer in 2016, along with the Robertson Cup as OHL champions in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013. London also appeared in the 2014 Memorial Cup as host. The Hunter brothers teamed up at the Hlinka tournament seven years ago and won gold, in an event that is now called the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The Knights also hosted the first game of the Canada Russia Series in 2003.
Mark Hunter recently took the time to speak with Peter Robinson, editor of the CIBC Canada Russia Series program.
PETER ROBINSON: Can you tell us a how you think the summer evaluation process went and, specifically, the time in Plymouth?
MARK HUNTER: I thought it went well. We had some injured guys who missed but that gave us an opportunity to look at other players. Dale had a chance to work on systems and to see the players available. It was a worthwhile tournament (losing in the final to the host U.S.).
PR: You’re widely known around Canada for your involvement with the Knights. What’s it like to be involved with Team Canada?
MH: Anytime you have an opportunity to represent Hockey Canada, your country and Under-20, it is
a good opportunity.
PR: We’re talking now on the CIBC Canada Russia Series. Can you explain its role in the process?
MH: It’s important. I think especially so because Russia has been sending some good teams lately and they are great hockey country. It has also been a great competition. Dale also gets an opportunity to run a practice with the players, to work on systems, so that is also important. We use it as evaluator and it’s a great chance for us.
PR: A decade or so ago, this series was not as competitive and nor was the World Junior. The CHL and Canada dominated at times, though they didn’t always win. But there were also times when Canada won gold when not playing its best. That is not the case anymore. Whomever is going to win must be at the top of their game. You don’t need to be told what happened last year in Vancouver. Is it not true that the margin to win now is razor thin?
MH: For sure. Sometimes things don’t (work out). Last year was close and you must be a bit lucky with players. Keep your fingers crossed that players can be made available from the NHL. Last year, Robbie Thomas would have helped us. But that is just the way it worked out last year.
PR: To that end, are you comfortable naming players that you think are going to be important, though I understand that’s not a typical approach at this stage.
MH: Well, I think that Ty Smith and Joe Veleno are going to be a big part of it. They were there last year and wouldn’t have liked how it ended. We’ll be counting on them to lead us.
PR: To clarify, though, Veleno was sent to the Detroit Red Wings American league affiliate out of training camp.
MH: Yes, but he’s a guy we are keeping our fingers crossed will be made available.
PR: Last question. You’ve praised Russia. Do you have a comment about the U.S.? They have a very successful program, a great draft crop last year that will make up the core of their team this year that you play to open the tournament, you’ve had many Americans play for you with the Knights.
MH: Yes, they have a good program there. Things can work in cycles. The Americans are in a good cycle right now. And now Canada is going to have some strong players. We always do. But last year, at the NHL Draft, it was not a good year for Canada.
— The interview was edited for clarity.