The Canuck I Remember...Tim Hunter

Patrick Johnston
August 02 2011 12:53AM

 
There's Tim Hunter, crooked nose and all, being squashed by the new coach of the Chicago Wolves
(Photo credit: Mike Powell/Getty Images via LIfe.com)

The second in a special summer series, CanucksArmy.com author Patrick Johnston will write whatever comes to mind about a random Canucks hero. What is a hero? Patrick's criteria is super secret, but maybe, just maybe, if you pay close attention, you'll figure it out!

Some players are remembered for great moments of skill. Others for great moments of hustle. Not many are remembered for their nose. Here's a guy who is.

Tim Hunter is a guy connected curiously to my hockey playing childhood. When I was eight, my novice team had the good fortune to play during the 1st intermission of a game at the Pacific Coliseum. (It's especially notable because that's where I scored my first-ever goal. Ryan Thrussell did all the work, I just pushed off from the bench and ended up at the other team's goal, with enough time and space to bang home the rebound!) The Canucks' opponents that night? The defending Stanley Cup champs. After we played our little game, we had to wait in a holding space under the stands. The space was between the entrances to the two benches and we had to wait until the Canucks had cleared the walkway between their dressing room and their bench before we could walk back to the little dressing room which seemed to be suspended above the concourse. As the Canucks walked in front of us, we all banged our sticks on some metal grating, urging on our heroes (Dan Quinn? Andrew McBain? Jim Agnew? Oof!!). We thought it was so cool to have the Canucks walking right there, just in front of us.

What I was to discover later, from the home video recorded by one of our dads, was that our coaches had not been paying any attention to the procession of Canucks. Instead, they'd been chatting with Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, who had come out from the Flames' room early and were loitering in the tunnel. This is especially stunning because I was no more than three players from the end of the line, so this chatter would have been going on almost BEHIND ME! If only I had turned around, I would have seen two of the greatest players of their generation, talking to *our* coaches about *our* team! The discussion didn't last long, and the Flames proceeded to pass through the gateway. The video stays on the stream of players, who pass without comment from our coaches until someone blurts out "Aha! Hunter!" Yes, it was ol' Tim Hunter with the NHL's most notable nose. Hunter was noted for two things: his nose and his fists; the fists were more useful to him as a hockey player.

Hunter's nose had always been a continued source of speculation - my friends and I would regularly discuss how many times could he have broken it? What would it be like to breathe through it? Did it make him feel bad? There were even statements to the effect that he hadn't actually ever broken his nose, that it was actually his natural look. The notion that a rough and tumble guy like Tim could have a nose that hadn't been broken, that it was mere coincidence he'd ended up with a nose that so suited his style of play seemed incredible. It had to be! How could he not have broken his nose in a fight? And yet, part of us somehow believed this might actually be true, that Time had been imbued with this ridiculous nose as a sign of destiny, that he was meant to be an NHL tough.

Last week I talked about 'hustlers'. Was Tim Hunter a hustler? I certainly never thought of him as such. He always struck me as a player who would throw 'em when needed to, but who was just as much of a plain old tough cookie out there. He made you work; he wasn't going to pot many goals, but he certainly was going to make it hard for his opponents to do so. If the going got rough, he'd be there too and he'd take on the best of 'em. By the time he'd joined the Canucks, he didn't have to be the heavyweight anymore, that role lay on the shoulders of younger steeds like Gino Odjick and Shawn Antoski. In the 3-and-a-half seasons he spent with the Canucks, he was ever-present, playing a solid right wing on the fourth line, killing penalties, getting into his share of scuffles. When he moved on from the Canucks, a part of me felt sad. I had valued him mostly for the crazed look he'd get in his eye; it almost felt like he was delighting in the mayhem he'd find himself in, and you could see that he lived for the confrontation, of stirring the pot, of getting under the other team's skin and having to battle it out with an opposing tough. He played with an abrasiveness that has been seen since in Canucks colours (Jarkko Ruutu springs to mind) but he was unique in that he had the toughest face you'd ever seen, and when he got mad, he got MAD.

Tim Hunter's nose was memorable because of its crookedness. Noses like that are reminders that sometimes things get tough. Tough moments should always exist in the game. Gritty guys like Tim Hunter will also always have a place in the game. Will there be another guy who will be as notable for his 'looks'?

Those days are not to be lamented; even the clutch and grab which seemed to be tolerated in the recent playoffs was enough to remind that the old days were in no way better. Physicality gets your blood flowing, teams showing hatred for each other is thrilling, but we don't need a continuance of the stupidity that used to be commonplace in the game. Tim Hunter never struck me as a stupid hockey player, but many players of his ilk were. The NHL won't always be quite what we want it to be, but we musn't forget where it came from and what's been left behind.

Bonus: for those who didn't know or had forgotten, Tim was the original alleged Canucks biter, chomping down on Tie Domi. I don't remember quite the same uproar from that incident. Probably because it was in the aftermath of Mike Peca being the original Aaron Rome.

Extra bonus: Here's new Wolves coach Mac-T talking about lots of things, including checking Cliff Ronning and his future as a coach, during game 6 of 1994.

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Patrick Johnston is a Vancouver journalist. In addition to regular contributions here at Canucks Army, his work has appeared in The Province, Hockey Now and on the CBC. Check out his blog and other writing at http://johnstonwrites.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @risingaction
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