*This will likely go down as the cheesiest headline word-play you’ll see on this website while covering the Vancouver Canucks. One would hope.
Canucks defenceman Brad Hunt is a breath of fresh air. He’s enthusiastic, he’s direct, one might even say effervescent. He possesses a certain innocent enthusiasm, like in a previous life he could have hosted a children’s TV show, or maybe even been a preacher in the 1950’s. And this is not to make light of him, because it’s actually refreshing.The 33-year-old Maple Ridge native is working hard in the preseason to keep the dream alive with his sixth NHL franchise in a career that’s seen him play 191 NHL games.
“Just taking it all in and having fun,” Hunt said. “I just control the things that I can control and that’s how hard I work at practice and how I am in the dressing room and that’s all I can really focus on. It’s just having fun, and it’s just been great.”
Hunt’s game can best be described as consistent and versatile. He’s not the biggest guy, in fact smallish for a defenceman at 5’9″ and 177 pounds, but the lefty can play both sides of the ice and play forward. He’s even earned a bit of ice time on the power play in practice.
“It’s always exciting, you’re playing with great players no matter what position you’re in on the ice,” Hunt said. “It’s just taking all of the knowledge in and learning as much as we can with preseason here and getting comfortable with each other. There’s gonna be a couple different looks I’m sure, but just getting a feel of it again is important, you can’t mimic that in the summer, it’s tough. You can try to but it’s never going to be like it is in a game or in a high intense practice. It’s just figuring it out, feeling comfortable with it and moving it into a game.”
The presumption for Hunt this season is two-fold; a reliable, experienced veteran who can step in as a depth D-man when needed at the NHL level, or a leader, maybe even the captain and a minute-muncher at the AHL level for the Abbotsford Canucks. Hunt signed a one-way contract on July 28th for $800,000 which means he’ll make the same amount regardless of where he’s playing. Last season his ice time was limited to just 12 games with Minnesota. The season before that he had a career high 19 points and eight goals for the Wild while appearing in 59 games.
“As you feel more comfortable, as you’ve been here longer, as you get a little older, things start to slow down a little bit for you. Maybe not being as nervous too,” Hunt said while explaining the difference between instinctive and learned behaviour as a D-man. “Obviously if you’re younger you’re trying to be perfect all the time and that kind of sometimes works like quicksand. The more you try, the bigger the hole you dig. It’s just staying calm and confident and taking it all in.
“I’m still learning. Once you’re done learning then maybe it’s time to start looking for something else. You just take in all of the knowledge that you can and every day you try to get better. Nobody’s perfect and we always just wanna keep getting better at our craft. As you look at the best guys, they’re always trying to get better and they’re trying different things.”
Assuming Quinn Hughes is in the line-up, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson behind him on the left side, that leaves a competition open for the third-pair lefty D-slot. The focus has been on youngsters Jack Rathbone and Olli Juolevi, but Hunt is lingering and he’s more than pleased to be a factor.
“Obviously it’s a battle for a spot but I don’t think any of us are focusing on that,” Hunt stated. “They’re doing the same thing, they’re coming to the rink, they’re great players, they’re great kids, and if I have questions for them, they’re going to help me too. It’s not just that I’m going to help them, we’re in it together and at the end of the day we’re all part of the same team. It is a competition but it’s not like they’re on the other team and we’re versus each other.”
The BCHL junior league alum’, who spent two-plus seasons with the Burnaby Express before moving on to college hockey at Bemidji State (Minnesota) in 2008, believes in paying it forward.
“I was in their position too, and older guys helped me,” Hunt said. “Healthy competition is a good thing, I don’t think it’s good when you’re just handed things, I think when you have to work for it. There is that battle part of it. It helps your career and it helps farther down the road when maybe you’re in that position as well. We’re all on the same team so we’re going to help each other right until the end.”
Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Travis Green spoke in general with his analysis of Hunt and the battle.
“I think everyone has looked pretty sharp, it’s still relatively early,” Green said. “Most guys have only played one game, and some guys, camp, the first three or four days was hard, so we’re not making rash decisions but I think everyone in general has looked pretty sharp.” Hunt was on the third pair with Madison Bowie Sunday night in Spokane in the 5-3 loss to the Seattle Kraken. Hunt likes Green’s brand of hockey.
“I think it’s just high pressure,” Hunt said. “He wants to play an exciting brand of hockey, everybody’s up in the play, you work as a five man unit. Throughout the league it’s very similar, the game is so fast now, so it’s just trying to get an advantage. It’s an exciting style of hockey, I think the fans love that high pressure and it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Hunt spoke rapidly with a projecting volume, maybe a bit of nerves this morning for his media availability, maybe not. It involved a rare visit to the podium in the press room in front of a full compliment of media, typically reserved on a regular basis for coaches and superstars. But there’s no extenuating circumstances to this player’s enthusiasm or sincerity. He pointed out his appreciation for all of his teammates including the younger ones, younger ones he even looks up to.
“How fit they are, how good they are, how good of skaters they are,” Hunt said. “It’s something I look at too and I think wow, that’s awesome, I’m gonna try to make myself better to keep up with them and vice versa.”
Aside from providing answers and asking questions on the ice, Hunt says he starts the work day with the simplest of queries.
“Every morning, ‘how’s it going’, simple as that,” Hunt said, referring to what he asks his young teammates. ‘You good?’ It wakes you up in the morning, it’s fun, yeah,” he added. And when his time with the media was over, “Awesome! Thank you guys.”
*This will likely go down as the cheesiest headline word-play you’ll see on this website. One would hope.