By Ken Wiebe
The Winnipeg Sun
J.J. Hunter, who played in the ECHL from 2000-04, had done it before and believed it was only a matter of time before he started doing it again.
The Manitoba Moose centre has been praised for his impeccable work in the face-off circle, applauded for his work on the penalty kill and complimented on his work as a defensive specialist.
Don’t look now, but Hunter is chipping in offensively as well, producing five goals during his past 11 games to give him seven in the American Hockey League season heading into Friday’s game with the Iowa Stars.
“Absolutely, as a player at some point everybody had scored goals and I was confident I could still do that,” said Hunter, who had 13 goals with Edmonton during the 2004-05 season and 23 goals with Columbus of the ECHL during his first pro season. “The last couple of years, I’ve played more of a defensive role. That’s fine, I enjoy that and it’s a huge part of the game. By the same token, by being a third or fourth line centreman, if you can chip in offensively it really adds to the team.”
Hunter has been creating scoring opportunities throughout the year, but recently he’s been banging them home more often.
What’s been different?
“The word confidence you hear all the time and it sounds like a cliché but it really isn’t,” said Hunter, who has seven goals and 11 points in 35 games since joining the Moose on Nov. 14 following a nine-game stint with the Toronto Marlies. “It’s amazing. You go a while without a goal and then all of a sudden one bounces off of you or you get a grubby one around the net, then you start to feel more confident with the puck and you’re not as tight on your stick. You are more calm and then instead of rushing a chance around the net, you take the extra half second or whatever it is and you put the puck where it needs to be.
“Every player has gone through that, obviously to varying degrees. It’s great when they start going in.”
Moose head coach Scott Arniel says the emergence of his third and fourth lines as legitimate scoring threats bodes well.
“With everybody, we stress being strong offensively, working on your shot and working in practice on scoring goals,” said Arniel. “Our third and fourth lines get so many quality chances because they are so quick on the forecheck and do a great job of playing the system real well. It’s nice to see them start to bury them.”