View Full Version : You don't have to Hunt for answer

12-21-2005, 04:33 AM
You don't have to Hunt for answer

Greg Harder, The Leader-Post
Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Head coach Curtis Hunt won't belittle the salvation of the Regina Pats by deferring to a higher power.

Hunt places little credence in the dominion of hockey gods, supernatural beings who cast down punishment or mercy as they see fit.

Although a little divine intervention never hurts -- in hockey lingo, it's called "getting the bounces" -- Hunt believes a team is responsible for its own fate, good or bad.

Having experienced his share of both, the veteran head coach isn't being hypocritical when he attributes the Pats' very own "Miracle on Ice" to something called ... faith.

"We went from a team that had a lot of hope to faith," explains Hunt, whose WHL squad entered the holiday break with 20 wins -- eight more than it had all of last season. "The guys believe in each other and we go out every night believing we can win. The camaraderie in our room is outstanding. We're a tight group.

"We're a family."

Hunt's role within the domestic unit isn't unlike that of a patriarch -- he shows the path, everyone else follows.

If only it was that easy.

When Hunt took over roughly 16 months ago, the Pats' organization had been declared a disaster zone. The first order of business was to tear down the barricades between the dressing room and the coaches' office, no easy task given the contemptuous atmosphere seeded under the old regime.

The process of rebuilding the team's fragile psyche -- not to mention a deteriorated talent base -- was more difficult than anticipated, resulting in one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

Looking back, it now seems fitting to say: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

"I've said it before," notes GM Brent Parker, "I felt a lot better about where we were as a team last year than I did the year before."

That feeling proved to be prophetic.

From Day 1 of this year's training camp, the Pats have bought into the sales pitch of Hunt and assistant coach Terry Perkins. The result has been the kind of positive reinforcement that only winning can provide.

"It's a systematic game and Huntsy kept harping on us about that," offers veteran forward Jordan Fuder. "The more we believed in it the more we believed in our game."

The Pats' leap of faith wasn't immediately adopted by their skeptics, many of whom have sat back anticipating a relapse of past torments.

That black cloud is lifting.

Two years ago, players were lined up outside Parker's office waiting to file trade requests. This season's fires have been extinguished with minimal effort, which seems to indicate that a winning team is a happy team -- and vice versa.

"Nobody expected us to be like this," says captain Kyle Deck. "Everyone thought we were going to be on the bottom. That's an objective in itself (to prove people wrong)."

The key to the Pats' resurgence has been their consistency, a tribute to the leadership of players like Deck and Kyle Ross. It's an environment which has allowed youngsters Logan Pyett, Nick Ross, Craig Schira and Justin Bernhardt to perform like veterans.

Not to be outdone are newcomers Garrett Festerling, Matt Robinson, Petr Kalus and Denis Tolpeko, each of whom has injected skill and enthusiasm into the lineup.

"You can reflect back on Brent making some great acquisitions," notes Hunt. "Everybody we've brought in has been a key performer for us."

With the gamebreaking talents of imports Kalus and Tolpeko, the Pats have become the poster children for the new-look WHL.

Kalus is an early rookie-of-the-year favourite while Tolpeko, acquired from Seattle for an eighth-round bantam pick, looked like the steal-of-the-year before he went down to injury.

Then there's David Reekie.

The team's biggest question mark heading into the season is suddenly an area of strength. Reekie is undeniably the Pats' first-half MVP, providing the kind of consistent goaltending that every contender needs.

The only thing missing from the equation is the fans. Despite being one of the league's best home teams, Regina's average attendance of 3,850 has become an increasing concern.

There remains cautious optimism that a winning product will eventually inspire the masses -- provided the Pats' first-half breakthrough doesn't lead to a second-half bust.

Remember, the Pats are still one of the WHL's youngest teams, a group that has yet to prove itself over the long haul.

The players insist those doubts -- like all the others -- will soon fall.

"We're striving to be No. 1 in our division," says Festerling. "We just have to keep working hard and we'll see what happens."

It never hurts to have faith.