WASHINGTON – More often than not Sunday afternoon, Capitals coach Dale Hunter could look out on the sheet of ice at New York’s Madison Square Garden and find a player he had coached long before any of them were earning NHL paychecks.
While Hunter’s having coached Caps defensemen Dennis Wideman and John Carlson with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights has been well chronicled, Sunday’s game against the Rangers offered Hunter the chance to see three more of his former players.
New York defensemen Dan Girardi (2005) and Michael Del Zotto (2009) also had brief stints with Hunter in the OHL.
“When they played for me,” Hunter recently recalled, “Del Zotto was the offensive D, jumping into the rush and creating a lot of offense. Girardi was our shutdown guy — he blocked shots and shut down people.”
Girardi was acquired by London in 2005, joining a team that went on to win the Memorial Cup later that spring.
“Dale was a great coach for us,” Girardi told WTOP. “We had a real old team, he gave us the guidelines and the game plan and he just let us play. He was good like that. He didn’t say too much but when he said something it was obviously important and needed to be said. He did a great job handling all of us guys that year we won.”
Girardi was never drafted by an NHL team, instead signing as a free agent with the Rangers in 2005. He has since emerged as one of hockey’s elite shutdown defensemen, helping lead the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference this season.
But Girardi says that his career could have turned out much differently if not for his time with Hunter in 2005.
“I think that really jumpstarted my career,” Girardi said of his experience with the eventual Memorial Cup champions. “Teams want guys that know how to win and can win those big championships even in a junior league. I think [Hunter] trading for me from Guelph was a big point in my career