Hunter's minor role major for Skipjacks Former Capital new on-ice leader

December 26, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

A jarring thing happened to Mark Hunter on the way to the midpoint of another NHL season.

He was sent by the Washington Capitals to the minors, to the Skipjacks of the American Hockey League.

Jarring? Hunter never had played in the minors. He was 30, a veteran of 12 NHL seasons who was with his fifth team. It was not what he had in mind for his 1992-93 campaign.

"It was a shock," Hunter said as he prepared for the Skipjacks' game tonight in Hershey, Pa., against the Bears.

"But I like the game too much to retire. I want to see if I can get another chance with the big team or another NHL team."

Hunter is commanding the attention of a lot of hockey people lately. He is the AHL's Player of the Week after scoring the game-winning goal against Hershey and collecting hat tricks in the next two games against the Binghamton Rangers and Rochester Americans.

"The way he's playing, he may not have to wait out the year before he goes up," Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz said. "If not with the Caps, he'll create interest somewhere. People notice good totals. He'll be watched."

Hunter has been with the Skipjacks 11 games. After a slow start, the Ontario native has steadily increased his contributions. In the past six games the Skipjacks are 5-0-1.

"Conditioning was a factor," Trotz said. "Mark's in shape now to skate a regular shift. Earlier, after the first period, it was difficult for him to put up numbers because of fatigue."

When Ken Sabourin, the Skipjacks' captain, was traded to the Calgary Flames this month, Trotz named Hunter his successor.

"He's the best captain we've had," Trotz said. "He leads by example, has the respect of the team, hates to lose and isn't afraid to express his opinion."

On the ice, Hunter is an extension of Trotz and assistant Paul Gardner. He has authority to make position adjustments to combat an opponent's switches that can confuse young players, such as on faceoffs.

"He takes the panic and uncertainty out of the kids," Trotz said.

Said Hunter: "A coach can't always yell across the ice or even watch all the time, since he may be occupied getting his next shift ready."

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