It is a new era in Moose Jaw Warriors history — in more ways than one.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Tim Hunter was introduced as the Moose Jaw Warriors new head coach Thursday at Mosaic Place.
Thursday, the Warriors introduced Tim Hunter as the 16th head coach in team history.
Hunter played 815 career National Hockey League games and has coached 1,089 games as an NHL assistant coach. The 53-year-old is the biggest name the team has hired to be its head coach in its history.
"I was very impressed with our discussions about development and teaching," said Warriors general manager Alan Millar. "You have to be impressed with Tim's experience as an NHL player and a coach. You look at the people he worked with and the people he worked for and it's great experience and a great asset for our program. His passion for young players, development and teaching put him at the forefront and made him an ideal candidate for this position."
Millar spoke to Hunter on the phone on multiple occasions and then flew to Vancouver Sunday to meet with him in person. The pair talked for more than three hours and that meeting left little doubt in Millar's mind that Hunter was the right man to replace Mike Stothers behind the Warriors bench.
"I felt that there was a connection in terms of philosophically how we want to play the game and what is important to us in managing and coaching a WHL team," said Millar. "But more importantly (a connection in) how we were going to treat our players and how we were going to care for them on and off the ice."
Hunter spent 11 seasons with the Calgary Flames and was one of their co-captains when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989. He also reached the Stanley Cup finals in '86 with the Flames and '94 with the Vancouver Canucks. He played three seasons in the league with the Seattle Breakers before turning pro.
Though the Warriors have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons, Hunter feels he is inheriting a group of players who are ready to take a leap forward this season.
"I'm excited for the opportunity and I want to build on what Mike and Alan have already started to build here," said Hunter. "I'm looking forward to implementing my system, my style, my philosophy in the Western Hockey League. We have a great foundation here for success moving forward. This team is ready to take the next step."
Hunter was an assistant head coach for 13 seasons with Ron Wilson in Washington, San Jose and Toronto. He also spent the 2012-13 season as an assistant in Washington. He felt the time was right to pursue a head coaching job in the junior ranks.
"This is one of the best development leagues there is and it's a great developmental league for coaches," said Hunter. "You saw a couple of assistant coaches from the National Hockey League move down to coach in the WHL because of that opportunity to be a head coach. I'm the same. I want head coaching experience. I want to implement my philosophy and put my fingerprints on a program."
Hunter feels that coming to Moose Jaw is an important step on the path to one day being an NHL head coach. That speaks well for the WHL, but also says a lot about the changing perception of Moose Jaw as a hockey market.
"I want to be a head coach at the highest level one day… but I know I have to put my dues in and be a head coach," said Hunter. "It's a great opportunity and that's why I'm excited. They've done it right. They've put a lot of work in to rebuild this team through drafts and a few trades here and there. They've built through the draft and that's the way you have to do it these days. The cupboard is full of prospects, full of good young hockey players and they're ready to take the next step."
Hunter replaces Stothers after he took an American Hockey League head coaching job. Hunter's pro ambitions don't bother Millar.
"If Tim has the opportunity to be an NHL head coach that means he's done a good job for the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Moose Jaw Warriors have had success," said Millar. "We want our people to have goals. I don't really want to sit across from a coach in the interview process and have them say that they want to be here forever. We want people who want to get better."
Though Hunter's 3,142 NHL penalty minutes leaves him ranked eighth all-time, he promised his Warriors would play an attractive brand of hockey.
"I like to call it: modern hockey. It's a player-friendly and a skill-friendly game," said the man with one of the most famous noses in the history of the sport. "The players are going to love to play the game we're going to play. More importantly the fans are going to be excited about the way we play.
"There's a lot of skill on this team and they will be given the opportunity to use their skill to the utmost. I foster skill and creativity."
Hunter coached Brayden Point at the most recent CHL Top Prospects game and said he was "one of his favourite players in that game."
He said he was going to start reaching out to his players Thursday afternoon to start getting to know them before training camp starts on Aug. 20.
"I'm going to call every player and get to know them as soon as possible," said Hunter. "I want to get to know their comfort zone. The key to coaching hockey is knowing your players and creating an area around the player that he can have success in and be the best player and the best person he can be. You have to get to know your players to do that. You have 20-25 individuals and you have to coach each individual and make them a part of a team."