Blustery and wet, the season's first snow blows across the plowed, muddy fields of southern Ontario like an idea just slightly ahead of its time. Not much is sticking, for now. It has been a wet fall, and the soybean harvest, delayed by the rain, is finally in; the winter wheat is healthy and green; and the Hunter farm, a 640-acre spread outside Oil Springs (pop. 638), a spit of a town on the outskirts of Petrolia (pop. 4,186), 35 miles southeast of the Port Huron ( Mich.) Bridge, is as ready as it will ever be for winter.
Dick Hunter, 48, glances out the window at the storm. You've heard of chips off the old block. Dick is the old block—stout, short, with a flat nose, slate-blue eyes and a purplish tattoo on each thick farmer's forearm. A former youth-hockey coach, he now has three sons in the NHL: Dave, 26, a left wing for the Edmonton Oilers; Dale, 24, a center for the Quebec Nordiques; and Mark, 22, a right wing for the Montreal Canadiens. All are tough, aggressive players. Guys who take the body and aren't afraid to throw an elbow into the bargain, a manner of play drilled into them by Dick, who taught them the best way to keep their teeth was to carry their sticks up high. All three have kept their teeth.
In the Hunter kitchen is the puck with which Mark scored his first NHL goal, on Oct. 8, 1981, during his first shift in the league. There's a photograph of Dave holding the Stanley Cup following the Oilers' five-game trouncing of the New York Islanders last May. There's another photo of Dave and Dale on the Petrolia Pee Wee All-Stars, whom Dick coached to the Ontario State Championship, B Division, in 1971.
"You take a fiery kid in the mold of Dale, say," Dick says, pointing to the image of Dale as a not-so-angelic nine-year-old. "They don't want them kind of kids in youth hockey no more. Fired-up kids. They cause trouble. Nowadays they want you to play for fun. Where do they get them kind of ideas? Play for fun! It was no fun when my boys were coming along. We played to win. And we'd do anything to do it, too. If you're going to drive 200 miles to play a hockey game, you might just as well win 'er, eh? We were always poor losers around here, isn't that right, Neece?"
Bernice Hunter, a trim, handsome woman, laughs. "Oh my," she says.
"Nope," Dick says, chuckling. "None of ours are too graceful losers."
None of theirs are too graceful any things, which is exactly what NHL coaches and general managers admire about the Hunter brothers. Let the Wayne Gretzkys and the Mike Bossys of the league provide the grace out there; somebody's got to do the checking and dig the puck out of the corners. The dirty work. "They're a bit of a throwback to the old days—muckers and grinders who play hard-nosed, traditional hockey," says David Poile, general manager of the Washington Capitals.
Elbow to the chops. Slash to the ankle. Good hard check into the end boards. It's tough to administer pain gracefully. "There isn't one of them who wouldn't make a good Bruin," says Boston general manager Harry Sinden. "The type of guys you hate when they're against you, but you love to have on your own team. Dale's always spearing guys in the back of the legs or whacking them all the way down the ice. He's pretty cute."
If you think Dale's cute, wait till you hear about his cuddly brother Dave. "One night against Chicago, Dave knocked Denis Savard out of the game with a hit," says Oiler coach and general manager Glen Sather with relish. "Was it clean? Sure. An elbow to the face. There's nothing clean about Dave. He's a farm boy. They're all farm boys, the Hunters. Crude and mean."
Says Quebec's coach, Michel Bergeron, "Every coach wants a Hunter." And he's right.