For the week of April 7, 1999  thru April 13, 1999  

Glenn Hunter: The goalie’s best friend

Former Suns defenseman/coach came from New England

Express Staff Writer

When they get around to building the new Janss Center ice rink in Ketchum, they should give it some instant history and make a wall with a Sun Valley Suns Hall of Fame.

Your first inductees are pretty clear-cut:

Middlebury’s John Weekes, the father-figure coach who got the whole Suns thing going; wisecracking left wing and longtime coach John "Cub" Burke from Duluth; Yale’s Bobby Noyes, Sun Valley’s sturdy all-time scoring leader; and wealthy, cigar-smoking George Gund, the big-time Suns supporter from the big-time outside world.

The other first-ballot selection would be Glenn Hunter.

He’s the self-proclaimed oddball and former University of New Hampshire defenseman who rolled into town 20 years ago with absolutely no idea of all the fun he would have and all the responsibility he would accept in making the Sun Valley Suns hockey team a success in his adopted Ketchum.

The first thing a hockey team needs is a goaltender. And the Suns have had some great ones in Charlie Holt, Dan Nee and Tony Benson.

The second thing a hockey team needs is a goalie’s best friend, which is exactly the role that steady and smart Glenn Hunter played on the Suns blueline for 17 seasons from 1978 through 1995.

Never an All-Star in high school or college, Hunter has always been content to be a spoke in the wheel.

He’s a quiet leader who discovered early in his hockey life that you can stay out of trouble and have more fun on the ice if you play without a big ego.

It’s about playing with a brain—but without an attitude—in Hunter’s playbook. Skillfully playing his position and rarely screwing up, Hunter covered up for everyone else’s mistakes.

A goalie’s best friend.

With an edge.

Hockey’s a tough game, and you’ve got to be a little unpredictable.

Hunter, convincing everyone for all time that he can be as shortsighted as the next hockey player, once took a run at notorious NHL tough guy Stan Jonathan.

In college, Hunter started out as a studious dork with eyeglasses and "matured" into a long-haired hippie-type who strolled around campus barefoot and walked around the dorm with his skates on.

He partied, plenty, a classic underachiever with high college boards and even higher nocturnal ambitions.

He took a college English class in "The Bible as Literature," and once was actually seen reading the Bible in the locker room.

After he rolled into Sun Valley for the first time—a self-described "freak show" with New Hampshire plates bumping into town over 30 miles of Trail Creek dirt road—he decided to lighten up the mood by becoming a "White Muslim."

So Hunter took the name Ismael Aslan Haddad in his first couple of Suns seasons.

His first roommate was legendary Suns goon Paul Cartmill, for heaven’s sake.

"Are you going to see me play one night and identify what my game is? No, you are not," Hunter says now, with covert pride.

HHis game was defense, of course, but it was also about consistency and durability.

Hunter said, "I was always a nut, different, not in the mold, but I grew up in a very strict household. I obey the rules."

Included in Hunter’s 376 Suns games was a franchise-record 195 consecutive games between 1978 and 1986.

His career stats of 67 goals and 295 assists (a team record) for 362 points and 198 penalty minutes rank Hunter second behind Noyes on the all-time Suns scoring list.

Hunter still holds the single-season record for assists by a Suns defenseman, 35 set in 1983. His 1983 single-season record of points by a defenseman (41) stood for 14 winters before Kris Webster tied it during Sun Valley’s national title season of 1997-98.

Those are the basic numbers for an extremely valuable player who took up the coaching mantle for three years and guided the Suns to a 53-17-6 record before giving way to Tim Jeneson in 1997.

But what’s really interesting about Hunter is where he came from and how he got to Sun Valley in the first place.

College hockey and beyond

Hunter arrived in the fall of 1978, right before the fourth Suns season.

Among the first-year skaters that winter were Noyes, Joe McCarthy, Dave Hutchinson, Pat Kearney, Mark Broz and Cartmill.

It was a pivotal year in Suns history, a good winter. The Suns (24-5) competed for the first time in the National Senior Invitational tournament.

The Suns needed help on defense and Hunter provided it, just as he did when he played at New Hampshire from 1971-74.

The fact that he played four years of high-quality Division 1 college hockey at UNH was a tribute to two things: Hunter’s stubbornness and his knack for showing up in the right place at the right time.

"It was the program for me. I fit in," said Hunter about New Hampshire.

Hunter, 45, came from a basic middle-class family that gravitated from the city, East Boston, to the suburbs, Stoneham, Mass.

His father worked for John Hancock Insurance for 47 years and his mother was a homemaker.

As the baby of the family, the third of three children, Hunter had an older brother and older sister and was cut a certain amount of slack.

He didn’t make the All-Star team as a high school hockey player, but he took his responsibilities as team captain semi-seriously—he threw plastic flowers over the plexiglass as a peacemaking gesture to angry hockey crowds.

He was high school yearbook editor who became an English Literature major in college. But the chance to play hockey, not academics, caused Hunter to choose UNH.

He said, "I was stubborn enough to think I could play hockey in college.

"But I thought I’d play on a freshman team and junior varsity and maybe play varsity as a junior or senior. As it turned out, that was the first year they changed the NCAA rules allowing freshmen to play varsity. Literally they changed the program in the hour it took for me to drive from Stoneham to Durham.

"They dropped the freshman program, so it was sink or swim with the varsity. I was ready to transfer because I didn’t think I’d get a chance to play. Hey, I was 17, and you don’t play big-time sports as a walk-on freshman.

"It seemed like everybody on the team was from Canada, and they were old—some were married with kids. I was overwhelmed by it all. Really, I was an embarrassment. They should have tried to get rid of me but, unfortunately, I was better than most of the guys they gave scholarships to.

"There were three Canadian recruits among the five defensemen they brought in on scholarship that year. Two were too big for the college game—we played without the red line back then, so these two didn’t have the mobility to play a wide-open game.

"You would just skate during the first week of practice, and someone noticed that I could hop around in the corners backwards. The other thing was, UNH had little depth on defense and was always playing shorthanded."

Hunter ended up starting on defense as a freshman.

Indeed, he played more minutes as a first-year player than any of his other three UNH seasons.

He said, "UNH was fairly new to Division 1 hockey and all of a sudden freshmen were eligible. They scraped, and I came up. It was a matter of circumstances. I was always out killing penalties.

"So much of what makes it or what breaks it in life is you’ve got to be at the right spot at the right time."

After a rocky sophomore year when he broke his arm and missed a practice and rode the pine and lost his confidence, Hunter had a memorable junior season. UNH was ranked second in the U.S. for most of the winter behind Michigan Tech.

He said, "We had a deep, talented four-line team with an All-American goalie in Cap Raeder. Actually we had several All-Americans.

"I was really dedicated to playing and took charge. We recruited four defensemen for that team, all more talented than I was, but I wound up being the leader defensively."

Hunter’s defensive partner was All-American Tim Burke.

He said, "I was the defensive defenseman and Tim was a lot like Bump (former Suns defenseman John Finnegan) because he wanted the puck. Tim scouts for George Gund now, and so does Cap.

"Unfortunately that UNH team never got a chance to prove anything in the playoffs. We were seeded first, the first time UNH had home ice in the playoffs, and we played RPI, who we had beaten soundly two times. Cap was hobbled, though—he had sprained his ankle in the last part of the year. We had to pull him after RPI went ahead 4-1 after only 15 minutes and we eventually lost 7-6 in overtime.

"I was on the ice, and I’ll always remember that puck going by and everything went silent."

That was Hunter’s high-water mark with UNH. Two-year All-American Gordie Clark graduated and other players including Raeder left the team for various reasons.

"It sort of splintered apart," said Hunter, one on only three seniors on his final UNH squad. "If that team had another year together, it would have been an amazing team."

In his four years, Hunter got about $3,000 in scholarships, a small amount compared to some of his teammates. "I wasn’t the big guy. The expectations on me weren’t as high as the other players. I just fit in," he said.

Still, his experience at UNH was invaluable and he feels a certain amount of pride in being part of UNH becoming a Division 1 hockey power.

"We had a great, innovative coach in Charlie Holt. There was a lot of talent that went through the program—a huge amount of guys ended up playing pro—and I became a much better player," he said.

After his senior year Hunter had cups of coffee with Springfield of the AHL and Columbus of the IHL.

It was with Columbus in the fall of 1975, in some midwestern city, maybe Dayton, he said, that Hunter had his fight with Stan Jonathan.

Hunter said, "I have no idea why I did it. Stan Jonathan was a tough little guy with a chip on his shoulder who was fighting his way to the NHL.

"I guess I was being sucked down into the hell hole of minor league hockey. I just realized that it wasn’t my game. And they certainly weren’t looking for a 5-10, 180-pound defenseman with limited offensive skills."

Hunter returned to Durham, worked the night shift in a convenience store, played summer league hockey and finished up some Chaucer and Shakespeare so he could get his college degree. He worked as a bus boy in a Portsmouth, N.H. restaurant for two years.

Restless and adventurous, he took the advice of a summer league teammate and decided to head out west for a tryout with a West Coast minor league team.

Hunter piled his belongings into his car and drove from New Hampshire to Sylvan Lake, Alberta, near Red Deer.

The tryout camp didn’t work out and Hunter went to Plan B. He wanted to ski a little, but didn’t want California or Colorado. A friend, Tom Osenton, told him that Sun Valley, Idaho was a nice place, "and they have some type of hockey team there," Hunter recalled.

"I slept in my car the first night I arrived in Ketchum and then got a room at the Sun Inn," he said. "I asked around at the Pioneer and found out when the Suns were skating.

"So I went up to the rink and that’s when I met John Weekes. I suppose he was looking at me as just another one of these flakes who come through. But I’m looking at this mishmash of guys skating around, a couple of guys who were okay, a couple skating with pads over the outside of their jeans, and I figure it’s the rough equivalent of a good "B" league team with a couple of "A" league guys thrown in."

Hunter still had a stop to make in San Diego, and when Weekes heard that, the coach told Hunter, in one of the great all-time Suns throwaway lines, "I can’t hold a spot for you."

Hunter still chuckles at the comment. "Literally, I had seen five minutes of these guys skating around and knew I could make this team," he said.

He went to San Diego, then Phoenix, and was back in Ketchum in about 10 days. He was a goner.

Said Hunter, "The West, the space, had a grip on me. The minute I drove into Ketchum, I thought it was a neat town that reminded me of my northern New England roots. The hockey wasn’t bad, and it was apparent it was going to be fun, a lot like summer league, with people like Hermie, Dick, Rip, Cub and Hutch.

"What was really classic, though, was that the sport and the Suns were so huge.

"Every single night we were out in the Pioneer, Yacht Club and Silver Creek Saloon. I felt like I’d met the whole town within a month after I’d arrived. I was amazed that everyone seemed to know me.

"And the hockey got better—every once in a while you’d play a good team and get a competitive fix. I realized I was going to stick around because I really enjoyed the place and became more appreciative of what it was."

Friend of a succession of Suns goalies and advisor to streams of players who have come and gone, Hunter has stuck around for 20 years and become a vital spoke in Sun Valley’s wheel.

He has married and become a stepdad. For many years he worked part-time as a tutor. He started his own landscaping and snowplowing business in 1982 and at one point had 17 or 18 employees before slimming down.

He said, "I now have five employees and am back to working myself. I enjoy physical work. It’s the niche I’ve found that suits me to survive in this town."

Here’s a typical Hunter dichotomy: He’s one of the first members of The Valley Club, even though he doesn’t play golf. "And I’ve never owned a house in this town. I’ve rented since I moved here," he said.

He may be different, but what Hunter has provided the Sun Valley Suns for two decades goes beyond the statistics and the hundreds of games and late nights and stories retold and pucks cleared and lives enriched by the wonderful game of hockey.

To a Suns program that is always clinging to its very existence, he has been a pillar of permanency.

The Suns have meant something to Glenn Hunter, and the feeling has always been mutual.

(Note: This story first appeared in the 1998-99 Suns Hockey magazine).


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