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The most famous brother act in hockey is the Sutter sextet of Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Ron and Rich. The Sutters, like the Hunters, grew up on a farm, which may or may not have something to do with the brand of hockey played by both clans—good ol' country hardball. Dick Hunter happens to feel there is a relationship between being raised on a farm, where you work for everything you get, and good honest two-way hockey players, but a more reasonable explanation is that tough kids are the result of a tough upbringing.
"Kids today, they sit and watch TV," Dick says. "They go everywhere on these motorbikes. Our boys didn't have no motorbikes. They didn't have bikes most of the time. They got out and run if they wanted to go down the road and play. After doing their chores at night, they'd play hockey out under that light pole till they were pretty near froze. Sunday afternoons I'd take them to public skating at the Petrolia rink. I'd tell them, 'I'll take you, but you're not going to sit around talking or having a hot dog. You're going to skate.' I never did their skates up. That's one thing I wouldn't do. Even when they were little wee guys. If they really wanted to skate bad enough, they'd do 'em up somehow. The boys'd be out there, wobbling around, their skates all loose, but they learned. And it built up their ankles, too. Oh, they sure liked that game.
"We never ever thought about any of them playing professionally. Sometimes I kind of wish we'd built the boys up more, but you know, I never thought they'd make it. My oldest boy, Ron, was really the standout among them in minor hockey. When he made it to Major Junior A, well, we thought that was just like the NHL. The other boys would come with Bernice and me to see him play for Kitchener and see him traveling in a great big Greyhound bus. Geez, did that ever look nice to them. They were right off the farm is what—never even seen a bus before. Then Ron would come home and tell them the team had given him a new pair of skates, and they couldn't believe it. That's how it starts. The older one gets a taste of it, and them other ones want it, too.
"People are always saying how Dale uses his stick, how he's feisty and mean and all. Of course, I'm prejudiced, but Dale takes a lot, too. He's short—five-foot-nine—and them other guys throw their elbows around and hit him in the ears and give him a helluva beating. They're trying to put that little wee bit of fear in him, and I don't blame them. But they're never going to do it. No, sir. I remember when he was nine years old, a day like this, blowing and cold, and the boys were outside playing football. We looked out, and there was Dave, two years older and a damn sight bigger, putting the boots to him. Dale was crying, but he never come in and tattled. Ain't that right, Neece?"
"About five minutes later, Dave comes in hollering and shows his mom the back of his thigh." Dick starts to laugh at the memory. " 'Look what that little bugger Dale did to me,' he says. 'Bit me!' 'Well, you asked for it!' we told him. 'We saw you puttin' the boots to him.' Yessir. My boys always played it tough. But then, that was my way, too."
Biting was one of the few things Dale was not penalized for last season, his fourth straight during which he received more than 200 minutes in penalties. In 77 games he incurred 81 penalties, including two misconducts, 14 fighting majors, 21 roughing minors, 16 high-sticking minors, two high-sticking majors, one cross-checking major and one slashing major for which he received a three-game suspension. "You couldn't classify him as conservative with his stick," says Sinden, not without admiration. "He's pretty liberal with it, although I've personally never seen him try to hurt anyone, swing it at someone's head or something. But it's too bad that Dale's belligerence sometimes overshadows his ability. He's a good playmaker, decent goal scorer and excellent penalty killer. Not unlike Bobby Clarke used to be. Not quite in Clarke's class, but that type of player."
Dale, whose bellicosity has made him the Nordiques' most popular player, centers Michel Goulet and various rightwingers. Through Sunday, Dale has three goals, 18 assists and just 38 penalty minutes this year. The Nordiques, however, have bumped along to a 12-11-1 record, which some observers attribute to Dale's on-ice mellowing—a charge he dismisses as nonsense. "I go three or four games without a fight, and people say I've mellowed," he says. "I'll get my 200 minutes this year just like every other year. They tend to come in bunches."
Dale certainly didn't look like he was mellowing earlier this season when, with 30 seconds to play and Quebec trailing Montreal 4-2, he chased rookie defense-man Chris Chelios of the Canadiens around the rink, brandishing his stick like a pitchfork. As Chelios stickhandled in circles, Hunter speared at him seven times and finally tried a vicious two-hander, which, had it connected, might have broken Chelios's ankle. Because his weapon never actually found the mark, Dale wasn't penalized for the assault. But it was an outrageous exhibition, bordering on lunacy in the closing moments of defeat.
Says Mark Hunter, who watched the incident from the Montreal bench, "You've got to take Dale the way he is. He's played that way for 24 years, and he'll never change his style. He's the heart behind that team."