It depends on your notion of coach of the year: is it who did most with the least, or whose team had the biggest improvement?
That debate could be done to death after the London Knights' Dale Hunter copped OHL coach of the year honours over several deserving counterparts, including the Kitchener Rangers' Steve Spott, whose team eliminated London in the playoffs. (The award is based on the regular season only, and the Knights finished 10 points ahead of the Rangers.)
The case for Spott is the Rangers improved by 34 points, from 57 to 91. That was an off-shoot of the team's improved talent level after rebuilding in 2008-09. Spott had a lot to do with nurturing that, but you don't need to be a regular Buzzing The Net reader to know coaches have a limited impact once the puck is dropped. It's in the players' hands, even in major junior.
Hunter's Knights managed to match their 2008-09 output with 49 wins and 101 points the season after losing John Tavares, John Carlson and Michael Del Zotto (none of whom need any introduction) to the NHL. Their goal differential fell by one-third (plus-93 to plus-62), but a Knights team described as "unremarkable" finished only five points adrift of first-place Windsor. The Knights might have downplayed the overachiever tag, but perhaps that was since they weren't allowed to accept it. One never presumes to know what goes on within a team, but that might speak to the coaching job Hunter pulled off this season.
Graduating Knights captain Justin Taylor had a good quote about whether Hunter would explore any NHL vacancy:
"I think if Dale really wanted to go, he could've left after he won the Memorial Cup (in 2005). It's a short drive from home (Oil Springs) ... I think he always gets a kick out of seeing the young talent develop. There can be some pressure on OHL coaches at times, but in the NHL, it gets pretty ridiculous."
There is the joke among opposing fans that every time Dale Hunter loses a game, an angel gets its wings. It's actually a compliment, since it does not happen too frequently on his watch, even in what felt like a down season in London.
- Kitchener Rangers
- Steve Spott
- Dale Hunter