By Dave Fay
The Washington Times
Dale Hunter spent the past two days on the ice with more than 30 Washington Capitals wannabes, some not much older than the center's own children.
Hunter, who will be 39 Saturday, looked somewhat uncomfortable, almost out of place at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md. He had no helmet on and wore none of the pieces of protective armor today's hockey player wears if he wants to be healthy enough to play tomorrow.
I can't remember -- never I guess,'' he replied, laughing, when asked about the last time he was on the ice without his pads. Chances are he will never put them on again.
Hunter, a veteran of 19 seasons and more than 1,400 NHL games, will confirm a poorly kept secret tomorrow when he officially announces his retirement in a news conference at MCI Center. Twelve of his 19 seasons were spent with the Caps, the last five as team captain.
He will join the Caps' organization as a developmental coach, visiting Washington draft picks coast-to-coast.
The body's not as good as it used to be, you know?'' he said, the mischievous twinkle missing from his eyes. ``I've enjoyed playing. Hockey's been good to me and my family. But you know when it's time . . . and I'm going to miss it. The guys, the games, the trips, all of it. This is all I've ever done."
They won't miss him in Boston or Montreal or Buffalo or other stops along the tour where a younger Hunter, then playing for the Quebec Nordiques, terrorized opponents with his fiercely protective demeanor, not allowing anyone to bother his more talented linemates. He started one of them, left wing Michel Goulet, on a career that ended in the Hall of Fame and was a major contributor in Peter Stastny's election to the same body.
What he failed to do in his lengthy career was the one thing he and every hockey player sets out to do: win a Stanley Cup. His brothers, David and Mark, have won four between them, while Dale holds a record of a dubious nature: most postseason games played without winning a Cup (186).
That's why it's so special when you win it because it's so hard to win," Hunter said. "To win a Cup you have to be willing to sacrifice everything, to play with a broken wrist like Mike Modano [with Dallas], to stick your face in front of a puck to block a shot, anything.
"I really believe I pushed my body as hard as I could, to the limit, pushed my skills to the limit, so I could say this is the best I could be, where I could sit back in a rocking chair and honestly say to myself, `I did everything I could for me to be as good as I could be.' I never wanted to say to myself, `If only I worked harder I could have been a better player."
Hunter was sent to Colorado (the transplanted Quebec franchise) at the trading deadline this season so he could have one more shot at a Cup. The Avalanche made it to the Western Conference finals but lost to Dallas, the eventual winner.
Hunter's only trip to the Stanley Cup finals came two years ago, when Washington made a surprise appearance. But the Caps were no match for a superior Detroit team and lost in four straight.
Hunter will be remembered for many things, including serving the longest non-drug related suspension in NHL history. He missed 21 games to start the 1993-94 season after a late, blindside hit injured New York Islanders star Pierre Turgeon in the playoffs.
The suspension was commissioner Gary Bettman's first major ruling and was probably excessive. He rectified that later, naming Hunter to the 1997 All-Star team, his only All-Star selection. Hunter is the only player in league history to score more than 300 goals (323) while running up more than 3,000 penalty minutes (3,565).