Thirty years ago, Brent Sutter and Dale Hunter were fierce, competitive NHLers.
Now they coach fierce, competitive Canadian Hockey League teams. Hunter bought the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights in 2000 and has coached them ever since. Similarly, Sutter bought the Red Deer Rebels in 1999 and took over as head coach.
As players, Sutter and Hunter battled against each other in the NHL throughout the 1980s as opponents with Sutter a New York Islander and Hunter a Quebec Nordique and a Philadelphia Flyer the two were Adams Division rivals.
They even dropped the mitts against each other twice in 1983 and 1986.
Thirty years later, Sutter and Hunter meet again to open up the Memorial Cup tournament in Red Deer. The Rebels and Knights kickoff the 10-day hockey contest tonight at the Centrium.
“It’s the first time we’ve coached against each other,” said Sutter. “We played against each other a lot. Obviously Dale is a competitive guy and his team plays that way. He’s a very smart coach and a good hockey man with his team in London, they’ve had some great runs.
“One thing you admire with coaches like Dale is they’re able to adjust as the game has changed. You look at that one line (Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk) they’re a dynamite line. We have to be able to shut them down.”
Hunter called Sutter a very skilled player.
“He was also very competitive,” said Hunter.
“We both played centre and it was always a battle head-to-head and we know to play against him you have to compete and that’s what his team does too.”
The Knights emerged as OHL champions, winning the J. Ross Robertson cup in five games over the Niagara IceDogs. That series ended on May 13.
The Rebels were bounced from the playoffs in the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final by the Brandon Wheat Kings on April 29.
With the longer time off, the Rebels have been practicing twice a day to stay in game shape.
“It seems like we’ve been practicing forever,” said Sutter, adding that it has gone by quickly. “The kids have handled it very well. We changed some things up and did some things different and it made time fly. That being said, we’re certainly going to be the healthiest we’ve been all year.”
The lengthy break has allowed for some players to rest up and get ready for the 10-day grind.
“Whether it’s London or Rouyn-Noranda or Brandon, they’re all good teams,” said Sutter. “We believe we’re a good team and we just have to make sure we match their intensity and emotion. We should compete against these guys because we have a good hockey team.”
Sutter said the Rebel’s confidence has grown in the locker room over the two-and-a-half week break.
“We know Brandon pretty well and we’ve been watching games of the other two teams so we know what they’re like,” said Sutter.
“You can’t get caught up too much with the other team. We have to focus on what we do well, play to our level and we’ll make some adjustments. You change one game to the next because it’s not like its a seven games series.
“You have one game shots at each team as they do with you, so you have to be ready to go.”
Puck drops for the first game of the Memorial Cup at 6 p.m. at the Centrium.