BUFFALO (LGS) — The Rochester Americans opened the 2006-07 season with seven straight wins and won 14 of their first 15 overall. For many players on the Amerks, it was the best start one of their teams had ever had.
But hanging out in the corner of the Rochester dressing room is Dylan Hunter. In 2004-05 as a member of the London Knights, Hunter saw his team go an incredible 29-0-2 to start the season.
"It was amazing," Hunter recalled about the Knights' start. "As a team we felt that on any given night that we could win, that it was our game to lose.
"We were confident, not cocky."
The momentum that London started off with carried on for the rest of the season as the Knights cruised to the Memorial Cup.
"It was a dream. Kids in Canada dream about winning the Mem Cup. The team was full of great guys, and we wanted to win it for each other," Hunter recalled.
"We were lucky in a sense, because it was during the NHL lockout, and we were stacked as a result. We had guys like Dan Fritsche (Columbus) and Corey Perry (Anaheim) who normally would have spent either the beginning of the season, if not all, in the NHL. Instead, they were in London all year long.
"It was one of the best seasons and memories I've had in my career."
The first-year professional enjoyed five productive seasons in London. In 315 Ontario Hockey League games, Hunter scored 369 points (106g, 263a). And while it seems that scoring came easy to him, the adjustment to the level of play in the OHL was challenging.
"At first the adjustment was playing against bigger players," the 5'11" Hunter said. "It took me about a year and a half to adjust to that. I was used to being one of the bigger players in every league I played in."
Transitioning to the American Hockey League has not been as challenging for the affable Quebec City, PQ native.
"I don't want to say it's easier, but it's definitely different," Hunter said after practice. "It's more of a thinking man's game. You have to rely a bit more on your linemates. In juniors, you see guys coming in one on two and trying to do a 'dipsy-do' around the 'D,' but you'd get knocked into the first row trying to do that here (AHL).
"What I keep on working with the coaches is to keep moving the puck up ice. It's also a faster-paced game, so you've got to be smart and make the right decision."
Amerks' head coach Randy Cunneyworth has been pleased with what he has seen from the youngster.
"I think that he's been awesome," Cunneyworth stated Friday night. "He's a guy you hate to take out of the lineup. He's a complete player with great vision."
In his blood
That Hunter is a hockey player really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. Dylan's father Dale was if not the most, one of the most, feared players in the history of the National Hockey League. Splitting time between the Quebec Nordiques, the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche, Dale played 19 seasons in the NHL and accumulated 3,565 penalty minutes. Dylan's uncle Mark played in 12 NHL campaigns and won a Stanley Cup ring with the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Being so close to the NHL provided Dylan a unique perspective on the life of a professional athlete.
"I saw how hard those guys work every day. Every day after practice Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg would shoot 200 pucks on goal, working on their shot. It's part natural ability, but part work ethic. Seeing those guys in the gym an hour after every one else has left stuck with me."
It's why on the day Hunter was interviewed for this story, he was the last Amerk off the ice. He shot close to 200 pucks on Amerk netminder Craig Anderson after practice.
"There are no days off," the 21-year-old says. "I want to play on the first line, and I'm not just going to be put on it because I want to be there. I have to improve my game."
"He works so hard," Amerk Daniel Paille said. "He's seen his dad go through it and works hard in practice. He doesn't take practice lightly, he believes in the old adage that you play the way you practice."
"He's constantly asking me questions about the PK (penalty kill)," says Anderson. "His work ethic is incredible, and he's willing to learn because he wants to adjust and be the best he can be."
Finding his role
Having a father in the NHL was the equivalent to taking a 400 level college course as a 10-year-old.
"My Dad always taught me to find my own role, that every player has an area that they were good at.
"I remember my Dad telling me that he 'thought the game well, and got under the opponents skin.' Not everyone can be the goal-scorer. Teams need players who can think the game through. I try to play my game, think and put points on the board."
Bloodlines can take Hunter only so far, and he realizes that he has to work to make it to the next level.
"I have to keep working, especially on my agility and speed. I've been working with Kevin (Collins – the Amerks' strength and conditioning coach) to cut down my weight and to increase my power. With the rules in the NHL being what they are, you have to be able to skate. I've been working on a skating treadmill to improve my stride and to make me faster."
Cunneyworth sees this as something Hunter needs to work on, too.
"He has to work on getting a little bit stronger, and more physical. He has the ability. He's pretty complete, now he just has to balance everything out."
It's not exactly the 2004-05 London Knights, but Dylan Hunter is off to a good start.
Quick Hits with Dylan Hunter
Favorite TV show: Entourage. "Great show!"
Favorite music group: Red Hot Chili Peppers. "It's a toss up between them and The Tragically Hip. Blue Rodeo is great too."
Favorite fast food restaurant: Harvey's
Favorite video game: Call of Duty 3 (PS3)
Favorite hockey player growing up: "Either Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg. I wore number 19 growing up in honor of Sakic. I had to switch to 79 in London because 19 was retired for (Brendan) Shanahan. I happened to be given number 19 again here in Rochester."
Favorite rink: The John Labatt Centre in London. "It was modeled after the Air Canada Center. Just a great place to play."
Most valuable possession: iPod
Favorite road city: Syracuse. "The guys on the team told me that the rivalry was intense, and I didn't really believe them. I thought 'I've seen rivalries in junior.' But I saw first-hand when we went to their barn earlier in the year. Man, those fans are crazy! I hope we get the chance to play them again in their barn in the playoffs. It'd be a real rodeo!"