We are defined by our jobs. We are consumed by them -- largely because we depend on them to live -- but sometimes we forget that there is a lot more to us than what we do to earn a living.
To most, Dale Hunter is a former player and a head coach, but to himself, he is much more that. He is a farmer and a team owner, but above all else, he is a family man. And it is because of that that Hunter decided to step down Monday as head coach of the Washington Capitals, effecitvely ending his six-month tenure.
"He's going to head back to London," General Manager George McPhee said Monday, referencing Hunter's London [Ontario] Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. "I guess we're all fathers and sons and husbands first, before anything else, and if we have our priorities right in this life, family comes first. Dale needs to go home."
"I enjoyed coaching these guys here and being back with the team that I always figured, while it’s not my team technically, is my team," Hunter said of the Capitals organization. "So it was a tough decision to make, but it was the right thing to do for me and my family.”
While Hunter's return to Washington, where he became one of the franchise's most beloved players, was met with much pomp and circumstance, his tenure as head coach and the play of his team was met with anything but. Hunter leaves with as many wins as losses (37) and his hardline defensive style turned a once-exhilarating offensive dynamo into a defensively responsible team that played on the edge and required a lot of patience. One mistake could determine the outcome of any given game and more often than not, it did.
Hunter completely transformed the Caps' style of play into one that was foreign to most of them when he arrived in late November, but, more importantly, he was the catalyst for a complete culture change. He took a collection of individuals who had happened to play together for several years -- Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green et al. -- and turned them into a team.
“He taught us as much about leadership and team aspects and respect amongst players and trusting your teammates as he did about hockey," Brooks Laich said. "He was like having another veteran in the locker room. He changed the culture around here a little bit, which the rest of us really enjoyed. He’s leaving the team in a better state than he found it. I think that’s the best way to sum it up.”
Hunter may be leaving D.C., but his lessons will remain. Even though Hunter walked out of Washington's locker room for the final time Monday, he left his footprint on this team for years to come.