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Photo: Ross Dettman

#AHLOTB: Playing to rave reviews

By Lindsey Willhite | AHL On The Beat

Chicago Wolves defenseman Brad Hunt knows movies. Perhaps he knows a little too much about movies.

How does the 28-year-old three-time AHL all-star from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, unwind after a Wolves practice? With a movie.

“He’ll come home and see what movies are on TV right away,” said his wife, Katie. “It’ll be on for five seconds and I’ll ask, ‘Brad, what movie is that?’ And he’ll rattle it off. It’s crazy.”

Two or three nights per week, Brad and Katie leave their northwest suburban home to see a movie in the theatre. They go so frequently, they own an AMC Stubs Premium membership that allows them, among other things, to upgrade the size of Brad’s Coke that he purchases every time they go.

What types of movies does the AHL’s leading scorer among defensemen like? It’s easier to list the genre he doesn’t. And once you understand his personality – Katie describes Brad as “so happy all the time and laid-back” – then you can probably guess which type of movie bothers him.

“I’m not a horror movie guy,” Brad said. “Katie loves horror movies and she usually has to go to those with my sister, Brittany. I’m not big into the horror. See, that stuff to me is real. I’m OK with thrillers, but if you’re talking about deep souls and demonic kind of things, I’m not into it.”

His favorite movie is “Shawshank Redemption.” He particularly enjoys Kevin Costner, Mark Wahlberg, Robert De Niro and Adam Sandler vehicles. He loves sports movies (particularly “Miracle”, “Field of Dreams” and “Major League”), those based on true stories (“Snowdon” and “Deepwater Horizon” being recent examples) and the Marvel Superheroes series (which helps to explain why their dog, a rescued Golden Retriever, is named Thor).

When he’s selecting a movie to see, he’s wholly uninterested in whether the critics gave it four stars or no stars.

“My whole thing is, I can’t listen to someone’s view of a movie,” Brad said. “I have to go and see it for myself. If someone says it’s stupid, I’m still going to go see it because I want to see what it’s like. Everyone has different views of movies. I’m going to go to a “Fast and the Furious” movie and I’m not going to expect it to be realistic. I’m going to watch it for what it’s going to be.”

Hunt’s fascination with movies began as a child at his boyhood home an hour east of Vancouver and picked up steam when he attended Bemidji State in Minnesota from 2008-12. He and Katie met there as freshmen and many of their dates happened at the Bemidji Theatre, which was the sleepy town’s primary provider of entertainment.

“Even now, my parents and friends will drive past the Bemidji Theatre, take a picture of it and send to me and say, ‘This is your second home. Do you miss it?’ Katie said with a laugh.

The couple bought so many DVDs during the pre-Netflix era, their collection is too heavy and unwieldy to travel with them to their hockey-season home. Brad’s father, Steve, recently found more than 100 of Brad’s and Katie’s DVDs in their home. Dozens of their other DVDs reside with Katie’s parents, Mark and Polly, in their Grand Rapids, Minnesota home.

“In college, we were always going to the Blockbuster or the Walmart buying the $5 movies and getting the collection going,” Brad said. “Now you’re like, ‘Holy smokes, we’ve wasted a lot of money on movies.’ But you really didn’t have cable in those days, so that’s how you watched movies.”

Now that the Hunts’ love for movies has been established, let’s use a time-honored cinema technique and introduce a few flashback sequences to relive some highlights of Brad’s life.

“HOME ALONE”

When Brad was a toddler, his father worked the graveyard shift. That meant their daily routine featured an afternoon nap. One such afternoon, the neighbor lady who lived a few blocks away woke up Steve with her knock on the family’s front door. When Steve answered, he was horrified to discover the kind lady had Brad in tow.

Turns out Brad had woken up, entered the garage to find a hockey helmet, grabbed a screwdriver for an unsuccessful attempt to remove the facemask and proceeded to head out for a walk around the neighborhood.

“He was out there in a shirt and a diaper and bare feet,” Steve said. “And it was chilly…probably October or November. Our dog stayed right with him the whole way, but, oh, was that scary. Thankfully that was my brother’s neighbor and she knew where he lived. Can you imagine?”

Somehow hockey had a way of working into many of Brad’s young escapades, which makes sense because he started skating and playing at age 2. When he’d visit Grandma Gail’s house, he had a consistent request.

“He’d said, ‘Grandma, you’ve got to sing the hockey song,’ ” Steve said. “So she would sing the Canadian national anthem and then he’d start playing hockey in her kitchen.”

Brad also loved attending his father’s games. Steve was a goaltender for a strong senior league team that used to travel around British Columbia, though their regular rink was Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster (coincidentally, the place where the player tryout scenes were filmed for “Miracle”).

“I was 5 or 6, probably, and tagging along all the time,” Brad said. “I was the one digging the beers out of the coolers and throwing them to the guys after the games. That’s what I taught to do: Get in the cooler and throw the beers out.”

“SLAP SHOT”
During his grade school years, Brad established a daily routine. As soon as school ended, he rushed home to put on his rollerblades and head out into his cul-de-sac to play street hockey. Regardless of whether he was out there by himself or playing with buddies and the neighborhood dads, he stayed outside until called in for dinner.

“When I was younger, I had a pretty good wrist shot because that’s all that I ever worked on was shooting the puck,” Brad said with a smile. “I’d rip all of the pucks, put ‘em all back in the bucket. Rip ‘em, put ‘em all back in the bucket. We had a lot of pucks.”

Brad’s routine caused Steve a bit of consternation because the family’s garage couldn’t take the barrage. “We’ve got new doors now, but we used to have wood particle doors and we had a couple puck marks from where they went through the doors. There was drywall broken.”

That’s when Steve brought home a 4-by-4 plastic sheet from work and attached to a piece of plywood. That gave Brad a smooth, sturdy surface that he could place in the back yard and enable him to fire pucks there without destroying the house.

“MIRACLE”

Despite Brad’s devotion to the sport, nobody expected the 5-foot-9, 185-pound defenseman to make a career out of hockey.

“To tell the truth, not really,” Steve said. “I thought he would play Junior.”

When Brad was 15 and hit the Midget level, he found himself on the B team. Good luck finding many other AHL or NHL players who spent time at that level.

But Brad started progressing quickly shortly afterward and earned a scholarship to Bemidji State. During his freshman year, the Beavers enjoyed one of the most miraculous runs in college hockey annals. After starting the 2008-09 season with a 1-6 record, Bemidji State snuck into the NCAA tournament as the 16th and final seed.

Once in the tournament, the Beavers shocked No. 2 ranked Notre Dame 5-1 and then bounced No. 9 Cornell 4-1 to become the first No. 16 seed in NCAA history to reach the Frozen Four. The New York Times flew out to Bemidji, a town of 13,000 people, to chronicle the little program and town that could. That the Beavers fell to Miami Ohio in the national semifinals was almost beside the point.

“We embraced being the underdog,” Brad said. “That’s what made Bemidji what it is, because it is a smaller town and the people there are super hard-working people. I think 1,000 people made it out to Washington, D.C. and showed their support. To see our corner all green and white was awesome. My parents and grandpa flew down. Katie and her friends drove down from Minnesota.

“Our team took a charter flight to Washington, D.C. – and we never took a charter flight. So that was really cool. And when we landed, we had a full police escort. We didn’t stop at any lights. All cars moved out of the way. The whole trip was awesome. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”

“INVINCIBLE”

One of Brad’s favorite movies is “Invincible,” the 2006 movie starring Mark Wahlberg that chronicled the true story of Vince Papale — a regular 30-year-old guy from Philadelphia who clawed his way on to the Philadelphia Eagles roster for a couple years. Papale’s rise reminds him somewhat of his professional hockey career, except for at least one crucial element.

“My life wasn’t really hard like that,” Brad said. “My parents did everything for us. Underdog-wise, maybe. Nobody expected me to make the NHL. But my upbringing was good. He didn’t have a good upbringing.”

Brad never was drafted by an NHL team. When he wrapped up his Bemidji State career in March 2012, he wondered whether he’d played his last high-level game. Then his agent, former Wolves standout Dan Plante, contacted him with a proposition.

He called me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Chicago?’ ” Brad recalled. “ ‘Well…yeah!’ Being in Bemidji, I could see that Craig MacTavish was the coach for the Wolves and I’m like, ‘Holy smokes, I’m going to get to play for Mac-T?” And you looked at the guys on the team and I was like, ‘What!” (Steve) Reinprecht was on the team. (Darren) Haydar. So many guys. I just thought it was the coolest thing.”

“It didn’t really sink in until I got here with the Wolves. ‘What would I be doing if I wasn’t here?’ And I thought, I have a really good chance to make a life of this. That’s when it sunk in that I could get to play hockey for a living.“

Hunt excelled with the Wolves through the end of the 2012-13 season. He even scored his first AHL goal in Abbotsford, B.C., in front of more than 100 family members and friends who made the short trip from Maple Ridge.

Then MacTavish, who had moved on to run the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, remembered Hunt’s 100 m.p.h. slap shot and signed him to an NHL contract. He made his NHL debut on Jan. 3, 2014, and had the good fortune of scoring his first NHL goal at Vancouver in front of family.

“I’m a pretty lucky person,” Brad said.