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Dale Hunter looking to keep Knights alive with tiebreaker win at Memorial Cup

05/23/2013 06:00 EDT | Updated 07/23/2013 05:12 EDT
SASKATOON - Dale Hunter watched from the sidelines as his London Knights fell just short in last season's MasterCard Memorial Cup final.

Having just finished an up-and-down stint behind an NHL bench with the Washington Capitals, Hunter sat in the stands in Shawinigan, Que., as the host Cataractes defeated London 2-1 in a memorable Canadian Hockey League championship game.

Now he's just trying to keep the 2013 version of the Knights alive in this year's tournament.

The Knights (1-2) face the Saskatoon Blades (1-2) in Thursday's tiebreaker game. The winner will take on the Portland Winterhawks in Friday's semifinal for chance to play in Sunday's final against the Halifax Mooseheads.

London started the tournament strong with a 3-2 victory over the Blades but dropped a 6-3 decision to Portland on Monday night before getting blown out 9-2 by Halifax on Tuesday.

"It's one of those games where they jumped on us early," Hunter said after the loss to the Mooseheads. "It happens. I've been on a bigger playing field than this and a few times this kind of game has happened."

After leaving the Knights for the Capitals 26 games into last season, London's owner and president restored himself as coach for 2012-13 and guided the club back in the tournament he won for the first time as the host city back in 2005.

Hunter had a 30-23-7 record with Washington and upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round before bowing out in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

He made a smooth transition back to junior hockey in 2012-13, guiding the Knights to the Ontario Hockey League title for a second straight year.

London's players say they were happy to have Hunter back behind the bench.

"He's a fun guy to be around. He knows how to win and he expects us to win," Knights winger Max Domi said recently. "He's a happy guy when you're winning so if you're working hard and go out and do everything you can to help the team win, then you're in his good books. It's fun to be around."

London centre Bo Horvat has thrived under Hunter this season. He's ranked as the No. 15 skater by NHL Central Scouting ahead of next month's draft. Domi, meanwhile, is ranked at No. 19.

"He's a great coach to play for. He gets the best out of you. He really thrives on defence first and that will lead to great offence," Horvat said. "He's given me all the opportunities I could ask for.

"To have him back this year and to have him coach this year has been a really great experience."

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