Your eyes are not deceiving you.
The coach behind the bench of the Petrolia Midget Reps team is a hockey dad; but this is not any hockey dad. This is NHL veteran and owner/general manager of the London Knights, Mark Hunter.
And right beside him, another former NHLer, Bobby Gould.
Hunter, whose day job is managing the operation of London’s Junior A team, took on the volunteer job with his son’s team this year.
“I’ve always been involved in minor hockey,” Hunter told The Independent. “It’s the grass roots of hockey; I really enjoy working with the kids.
“I enjoy it,” says Hunter “you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it. You build relationships with the players, you’ll remember them and they’ll remember you for the rest of their lives.”
Of course taking on the extra hockey job has taken a little maneuvering. Hunter – who played 12 years in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with Calgary, says Petrolia Minor Hockey was “good enough” to move around the schedule to allow him to be a part of the Rep team. Home games are on Sunday night, so Hunter doesn’t miss games and the team practices late at night, usually on Monday, so he can make it.
Occasionally, he doesn’t and then his friend, Gould who played in the NHL for 10 years for Washington, Calgary and Boston among others, runs the practice.
The team is doing “reasonably well” according to Hunter. But parents say the players love playing for Hunter and Gould.
Cherie Smith, whose son Brandon plays for the Reps, says Hunter and Gould were a draw. “Brandon had contemplated not playing hockey this year. Then he heard they were coaching and he decided to play,” says Smith. “It was the turning point.”
Smith, admittedly a proud mom, says her son’s skills have improved but she doesn’t expect he’ll be jumping to the Hunters Junior A team because Mark is behind the Reps bench.
But some team members have had doors open for them. “Brandon Lee, from our team played an exhibition game with the Knights,” says Hunter. “I believe in giving any kid who is driven and has the skills (a chance)… Some of these kids have worked hard and keep getting better; who knows where they’re going to go!”
And while he may find a diamond in the rough that other junior A teams don’t know about by coaching at the midget level, Hunter says it is important for his work as a general manager, too.
“It helps me understand how kids think,” says Hunter. “You have to be involved in hockey around kids to make decisions on how young men operate.”
And, as an added bonus, Hunter says he simply enjoys working with the 16 and 17 year olds.
“They’re a good bunch of kids and they’re getting better,” says Hunter. “All you want to see is improvement as you go along…It’s great to watch them grow into men.”