Washington Capitals new head coach Dale Hunter talks to the media before an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, in Washington. Hunter replaces Bruce Boudreau who was fired on Monday. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WASHINGTON - Dale Hunter made his Washington Capitals coaching debut in a blue suit.
He had to.
"It's the only one I got," he said.
Hunter was behind the bench on the NHL level for the first time Tuesday night as the Capitals lost 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues. He was tabbed as the replacement for Bruce Boudreau, who was fired Monday.
"I definitely have butterflies going," Hunter said before the game. "It's like the first game when you get traded."
Hunter played 19 seasons in the NHL and spent the past 11 years coaching the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, where he wore the same suit every game. He said he plans to continue the ritual with the Capitals.
"I only have to wear it two hours and a half every game," he said.
So how often does he go to the dry cleaners?
"I go after every game," he said with a laugh, "unless it's back-to-back."
As he spoke, Hunter wore a lime green tie with blue and white diagonal stripes. Surely he must have another one, right?
"Nope," he said. "Same one."
Well, not quite. During the game, he sported a red tie.
In contrast to his noted intensity as a player—Hunter ranks second all time in NHL history in penalty minutes—Hunter's meeting with reporters two hours prior to faceoff turned into a pretty good stand-up routine.
Asked what has surprised him the most in the two days he's held the job, he looked back at the throng and said: "You guys."
"There used to be three people here," said Hunter, recalling the sometimes scant media attention the team received when he played here from 1987-99.
"That's good for the area. That's how much the Caps have won, and fans are following them and you guys are following them. That's awesome."
Hunter had a reputation for playing locker room practical jokes during his playing days, but he says that's behind him—for the most part.
"I grew up," the 51-year-old Hunter said. "I'm a coach now. I don't do it to players. I might do it to coaching staff."
Expect Hunter to be demanding when it counts as he handles the reins of a team that was failing to meet high expectations.
"I have as a player been through some coaching changes, and it does give you a lift," he said. "It's all new. You've got a clean slate again. ... I'm an emotional guy. We're in the trenches together, the coaches and the players, and it's up to us to win."