Hunt still thriving with Eagles

Photo: Ashley Potts

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Another weekend’s arrival, and another step on the ice for Brad Hunt.

At 35 years old with 288 National Hockey League games to his name, the Colorado Eagles captain spent his weekend doing exactly what he wants to be doing. On Friday night he picked up an assist and helped the Eagles to pull out a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to Calgary. On Saturday he was back at it again as Colorado earned a series split with a 3-1 victory.

AHL games 368 and 369 are now in the books for Hunt, who is the only Eagle not to miss a single game this season.

“I get to play hockey for a living,” Hunt said, “and I love every second of it.”

And he can still play. Hunt is the leading scorer on the Eagles this season, and his 15 goals and 45 points top all AHL defensemen. He is quickly approaching the career-high 51 points that he put up with Oklahoma City back in 2014-15. And his plus-13 rating leads Colorado’s blueliners.

He played 24 games with the Eagles last season, his first spin back in the AHL in since 2016-17. Undrafted out of Bemidji State University, Hunt made a spot for himself in the NHL as a dependable depth defenseman and top-notch presence in the dressing room, a role that has taken him through Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville, Vegas, Minnesota, Vancouver, and Colorado.

When last season finished, Hunt jumped on an opportunity to represent Canada at the IIHF World Championship, where he played 10 games and won a gold medal.

Even with plenty of wear and tear through 12 pro seasons, Hunt is still durable enough to take heavy minutes with the Eagles.

“I feel like as you get older, sometimes you want to take a step back, but I’ve always just had the thing to just do more,” Hunt explained. “Keep doing more in the summertime. Keep trying to make yourself get better and implementing different things to keep it fun, so you’re not getting bored.”

The Avalanche know what they have in Hunt. They gave him a two-year deal back in July 2022 to bring aboard the type of leadership that every strong NHL organization must have. He can easily fill a spot on the NHL roster and assist there as needed. Or he can go to the AHL, anchor the affiliate on and off the ice, and embrace that role.

Taking over the captaincy for the Eagles this season, Hunt had plenty to navigate. They lost a big personality last summer as head coach Greg Cronin left for Anaheim and his first NHL head-coaching job. Aaron Schneekloth took over a club that had brought in several new faces. They lost six of their first eight games and started 2-4-2-0 and were 17-14-4-1 through the first half of the season. Respectable, but the Eagles also knew that they were capable of more.

“That’s kind of where we struggled, at the beginning,” Hunt acknowledged. “With the turnover, we were trying to find [our] identity. Once everybody got on the same page, the guys returning and the new guys that were coming in all understood what Colorado Eagles hockey is, and I think it’s showing now.”

It certainly is. Sparked by goaltender Ivan Prosvetov’s arrival from the Avalanche after the All-Star break, the Eagles are 19-6-0-1 in their last 27 games – including an eight-game winning streak last month – and have surged up the Pacific Division standings.

“We’ve really become such a brotherhood in the dressing room,” Hunt said. “It’s such a tight-knit group that we’re just all feeding off each other’s positivity. We’ve been riding the wave.

“We really are an open dressing room. Anybody can hold each other accountable. It doesn’t matter if it’s your 10th year or your first year, we all respect each other. We all want to try to make each other better.”

The past six weeks have brought plenty of good feelings through that dressing room.

There was a four-goal comeback in Calgary on March 1. Rookie forward Ivan Ivan got his first NHL contract after starting his pro career on an AHL deal. The Prosvetov story has been a feel-good one. The team had its annual “Pot of Gold Night” over the weekend in front of yet another full house at Blue Arena, which has been sold out for every game for the second year in a row.

He still hopes to play at least a couple more seasons and is due to become a free agent this summer. With what could be a career season, there should be plenty of demand for him to continue. Hunt has that gold medal from last spring, but the three-time AHL All-Star is still chasing the Calder Cup.

“I love every second of it,” Hunt said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I don’t want to do anything else in the world. I love this game.”