Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

OHL final coaches Dale Hawerchuk, Dale Hunter steer clear of memory lane

Nostalgia is for those who saw Dale Hawerchuk and Dale Hunter play — not for the OHL final's opposing coaches.

The man holding the Barrie Colts' reins scored 1,409 points during a Hall of Fame career. The bench boss for the London Knights played 1,407 NHL games as a hard-nosed two-way winger. While prominent former NHLers coaching in major junior is hardly novel, the Dale vs. Dale coaching matchup includes two who are each in the NHL's 1,000-game played club. Neither, though, will cop pulling out the 'when I played' card while working with their teenaged players.

"You don't want to go there because when you watch the old film of when we played, we're a lot slower — no lie," Hunter, 52, joked on Wednesday. "It's a new game out here. It's a lot faster. It's a pleasure watching these kids play at these high speeds."

"I played in the West quite a bit, it's a lot faster," Hawerchuk, who turned 50 last month, interjected. "Obviously, we draw on some of our experiences. Maybe in Game 7 [such as in the Colts' semifinal series vs. Belleville] you talk about how there's a mindset to have. Like Dale said, this game's changed a lot and keeps on changing. You got to change with it."

It is worth touching upon, especially since Hawerchuk's "you got to change with it" principle seems to have applications b beyond analyzing hockey. The two coaches' playing careers are still a first reference point for many fans, plus it's another storyline ahead of Game 1 on Friday at London's Budweiser Gardens.

Barrie and London have each bid for the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup. The Knights are the overwhelming favourite to win the bid over the Colts and Windsor Spitfires, so it's kind of an elephant in the room.

"It's in the hands of the [selection committee]," Hunter said. "We've both made our presentations. We're just here to play hockey."

Colts left wing Andreas Athanasiou, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, was with London for its 2012 OHL championship before being traded across conference lines last August. The third-year forward is a reliably energy and secondary-scoring source for Barrie.

"Obviously, they know him well," Hawerchuk said. "Andreas brings a lot of speed and skill to our lineup and gives us a lot of depth in that area."

With all that being said, forgive fans of a certain vintage if the sometimes view the men behind the bench in major junior — Brent Sutter in Red Deer, Travis Green in Portland, Scott Walker in Guelph, Todd Gill in Kingston — as their 1980s and '90s hockey card collections come to life.

'No different than it was for these kids'

Hunter broke into the NHL one season earlier than Hawerchuk in 1980-81 and played for two seasons longer. Hawerchuk was a Winnipeg Jets teammate of Dave Hunter, elder brother of Dale and Knights GM Mark Hunter, for 34 games in 1988-89. However, their paths crossed iregularly. They were typically on teams in different divisions. Even in junior, Dale Hunter starred with the Sudbury Wolves. Hawerchuk, originally from Toronto, played with the Cornwall Royals, then part of the QMJHL.

"I was more of a checker and he was more of a scorer," Dale Hunter said. "Dale was a special player and that's why he's a Hall of Famer."

"He's older than me, so I watched him play a lot," Hawerchuk said. "Watching him in the Montreal-Quebec series [in the mid-1980s], you saw what a gritty, competitive player he was."

That playing experience is put toward coaching now. As much as hockey has changed, there are still situations that have cropped up in the playoffs since hockey's nascence. Former high scorer Hawerchuk knows what it's like for star centre Mark Scheifele to be targeted by a shutdown line, which is something the Knights will surely do when the series begins.

"Offensive players on both teams, they're learning every night," Hawerchuk said. "It's a special challenge for them. They have the high level of skill. That's part of the learning process ... Dale and myself, we had to learn that going through junior ourselves. It's no different than it was for these kids."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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