By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
The players come first.
At least that’s the way Oshawa Generals general manager (GM) Roger Hunt sees it.
Hunt admits he has never wanted to be be in the spotlight.
He is in his sixth season as GM for the team, he continues to leave his mark on one of the Ontario Hockey League’s most storied franchises.
Hunt first joined the team as an assistant coach and director of player development in May 2010. Since then he has made a name for himself as the GM guiding them to six playoff births, and a Memorial Cup in 2015.
For Hunt, one of the most important things is family, describing himself as a “homebody” who values every moment he gets with his family.
He loves the game, and watches all levels of it.
“It takes up a lot of time, so that’s why my opportunities to spend time with my family are so precious,” he explains. “When I’m not at the rink – or a rink – I try to be at home.”
Hunt and Marina, whom Hunt says he was in love with at first sight, have three kids together.
“[The kids are] all over the place,” he says. “One is in St. Catharines, one’s in Ottawa, and one’s actually in Vietnam doing a little work-away project. So it’s me, Marina and the dog, which makes it a little quieter, but that’s where we’re at.”
Besides hockey, there’s one other sport which has made a home in his heart.
“Outside of hockey, I love golf in the summer – I’m a hacker,” he says. “But, come mid-August to until after the import draft it’s hockey, hockey, hockey.”
While he has put so much of his time and energy into Oshawa, Hunt is from Dunnville, Ont.
“I grew up [in Dunnville], and probably at about the age of 18 or 19 I moved away, but that’s always been my hometown,” he explains.
He’s been in Oshawa for the past 10 years, but for Hunt, growing up in a small town was great.
“It’s a small community, and it was the typical small town story. Everybody knew everybody, everybody took care of everybody,” he explains. “It may be similar to Oshawa in a lot of ways, but there’s not a lot of industry there.”
According to Hunt, people Dunnville usually worked away from home, noting his father worked in Hamilton.
“Some similarities between [Dunville and Oshawa] are that it’s a blue collar, hard-nosed town, and people who are from there are very proud to say they’re from there,” he says. “Some people will say, ‘I’m from near such and such,’ but people from Dunnville tell you they’re from Dunnville.”
He explains he had a couple of ties to the Generals out of his hometown.
Hunt notes he knew Peter Deboer, head coach of the San Jose Sharks and co-owner of the Generals, before joining the team.
“They’re the ties to Oshawa if you like connecting the dots,” says Hunt.
Hunt’s been either on the ice or near it since he was four-years-old.
“My dad always tells this story… I had to do a ‘learn-to-skate’ thing… and I went out for two seconds and came off bawling my eyes out. My dad says, ‘Look, I just paid $20 for you to take all these lessons… you’re getting back out there.’ To be honest, I went back out and probably never came off,” he says with a smile.
He then spent the better part of the next 47 years being in or around the game.
Hunt eventually became a defenseman, quipping he should have been a ‘stay-at-home’ defender who “stayed at home.”
“I wasn’t overly gifted as a player, but I think I was a good teammate, and that allowed me to play,” he recalls.
He says he was never able to play in the CHL, where he’s established himself as a GM, but he did play Junior C and B.
“I played college hockey, and I actually got the chance to go and play in the [United Kingdom],” he says. “I took that up and I played in the Central Hockey League a little bit in the U.S., where I played in Florida. Then, I spent about 13 years in Scotland playing and coaching,” he says.
He loved his time over there, and says he met plenty of great people, and made several connections.
“I knew I wanted to get into coaching, and I knew it the last few years I played, and I got a chance while I was over there to become a player-coach, which, looking back on it now, is just a nice way to give you two jobs and pay you for one,” he jokes.
Hunt received a lot of on-the-job training which he believes helped prepare him for his current position.
He then moved on to Edinburgh, Scotland before moving to Dundee, where he says he did everything except pay the players.
“Travel arrangements, hotels, ice bookings, everything. You learn so much about being organized, and I am organized which really in the end was the greatest thing that helped me get where I am today,” he explains.
After his last couple of years in the UK, he felt it was time for a change.
Having kept in touch with Deboer, he was advised to come back to Canada, regardless of how successful he was overseas.
“I made the commitment that I was coming back, and interviewed with the Barrie Colts the year that they lost to Windsor in the  OHL finals,” explains Hunt.
While that process went through the summer, he was unsuccessful in landing the job.
“I knew I didn’t want to go back, so I ended up being an assistant coach in tier-two in Milton with the IceHawks,” he says. “We weren’t supposed to have a great team, but I knew it was an opportunity to reconnect with people and get my face back out there.”
He’d then made an agreement, alongside current Mississauga Steelheads head coach and GM James Richmond, to leave Milton and coach the Aurora Tigers when he got a call that changes were afoot in Oshawa.
“To be able to get involved with an organization like this… I didn’t need time to think about it,” he says.
Now as the GM for the Generals, Hunt emphasizes the importance of education on the players.
“[Education] is huge. My wife is a school teacher, so the commitment I always make to these families when they come here is that I am going to ensure that your son graduates high school,” Hunt explains. “I can’t control their academic endeavours following their time here, but they’re going to graduate high school, and they’re going to do it well.”
He says the team has a great relationship with Maxwell Heights Secondary School, where all the high-school aged Generals players attend.
“I know in the morning if a player is late, I know ahead of time if a player is heading down the wrong path academically, I know immediately if a player is acting inappropriately or goofing off in school, and it’s not tolerated,” he says.
If he gets a call from the school, he takes what they tell him as the gospel.
“If you’re supposed to hand in an assignment on this day and you didn’t, they’re right,” he says. “There’s no excuse for it, because at the end of the day, I think the philosophy here is really you have to be a good person, and if you’re a good person, you’ll be a good teammate, and if you’re a good teammate, you’ll be on a good team. The respect aspect that goes along with being an upstanding citizen in this community, and in the halls of Maxwell Heights, that’s important.”
Since becoming GM of the Generals, Hunt has seen the team reach the playoffs every year, with the pinnacle being a Memorial Cup victory in 2015.
Today, the Generals are sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.
The team has a record of 11-2-0-1 after starting the season with a nine game winning streak for 23 points. They are five points ahead of the second place Sudbury Wolves.
While he is proud of the way the team has been playing, Hunt is looking to the games ahead.