WASHINGTON – When the Capitals played at home this past Saturday, Capitals head coach Dale Hunter saw a familiar face in attendance. His one-time bench boss with the Caps – and current Ottawa Senators general manager – Bryan Murray was watching from the press box as the Caps and Sens played.
When the Capitals return to Verizon Center Friday to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of Hunter’s former coaches will again be in the building.
Ron Wilson spent five seasons behind the Caps bench from 1997 to 2002, and is now in his fourth year as Toronto’s head coach.
Hunter and Wilson meet for the first time tonight as opposing head coaches.
“Ron Wilson, he’s a very organized coach,” said Hunter who played for Wilson during his final two years in Washington from 1997-99.
“He’s very thorough in what he does and what he expects from the players. Organization wise, he’s very good at that. He likes speed. Toronto skates fast in the neutral zone, and it’s a good quality to have.”
Wilson has 1365 games of NHL coaching experience, Hunter just five. However, the two will be forever linked as the head coach and captain of the only Capitals team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history.
“He was the captain of the team my first two years here and his role was [changing] as he was getting on in years,” Wilson says.
“But we went to the [Stanley Cup] Finals my first year here and he had a lot to do that with his leadership. Guys who are leaders on the team and play the way that he played, they tend to be the guys that turn into coaches later on.”
Hunter played all 82 regular-season games and all 21 playoff games during the 1997-98 season, the first in Washington for both Wilson and general manager George McPhee.
“He was a real warrior,” Wilson told reporters in Toronto Thursday.
“At that point in his career, he was kind of a third or fourth liner. He didn’t play that much, but he was a real leader in the room. He had an incredible sense of humor, a practical joker on the team. He’s a great guy, a very down to earth person.”
Catch the Capitals and Maple Leafs tonight at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, 1500 AM and online at wfed.com.