Dale Hunter scored 1,020 points in his NHL career. His number is hanging in the rafters at Verizon Center in Washington. He was a team captain and he's beloved by Capitals fans. On Monday morning, he became their head coach.
But one of the longest-lasting images of his career occurred in the 1993 Patrick Division Semifinals against the New York Islanders. With a few minutes left in the third period of Game 6, a must-win game for the Caps, Hunter turned the puck over to Pierre Turgeon. Turgeon carried it in on goal, scored, and basically sealed the win for the Isles. They had taken a 5-1 lead with the goal.
What Hunter did next was the lowest moment of his career.
Apparently, Hunter decided that if he was going to miss the rest of the playoffs, Turgeon should too. An eye for an eye, NHL-style. And just like that, New York's top goal scorer (58 this season) is gone - as is whatever chance the Islanders had against Pittsburgh when the Patrick Division finals begin Sunday.
After the game, the Capitals closed their locker room to the media, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for this organization. Coach Terry Murray was nowhere to be seen. A few players wandered out and spoke softly in the crowded hallway, then disappeared. For a club that prides itself on public relations, it was a dismal moment. The measure of a team is how well it handles the toughest losses, and this one really frazzled the coach and the players.
Hunter was suspended 21 games by brand new NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and at the time, it was the toughest suspension ever handed out in NHL history, excluding an outright ban from the league. Since, there have been six incidents which have garnered longer suspensions.
Nevertheless, the incident tarnished that Capitals team, as well as Hunter's reputation.
And as the NHL has shifted under Bettman from a league that polices its players from the offices in New York, not with fists on the ice, a lot of that can be traced back to Dale Hunter's hit on Pierre Turgeon. It was the first major crackdown on dirty play, and that's a doctrine that's lived on until today.