Wild’s Hunt blazing his own trail

Photo: Tim Garland

📝 by Alec Lessner | AHL On The Beat

Daemon Hunt is accustomed to the scrutiny that comes with being a high-profile prospect in the Minnesota Wild organization.

Like many Canadian junior players, Hunt has been under a spotlight since his early teen years.

The story of the end of Hunt’s junior career is well known to the hockey world by now. After breaking a finger in practice prior to the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, Hunt was due to miss the chance to play in the tournament with Team Canada. But when the tournament was canceled and rescheduled for August, Hunt had another chance to participate.

In a devastating turn of chance, Hunt once again broke a finger and was forced to watch from the stands as Team Canada made a run for a gold medal.

Now, Hunt is in his first full season of professional hockey as a member of the Iowa Wild, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. He’s quickly leaving his junior career behind him, and as he settles into pro hockey he’s determined to blaze a trail for himself both on and off the ice.

Hunt grew up in Moosomin, a small town of about 2,000 people in Saskatchewan along the border of Manitoba. As he entered his teens, his family moved to Brandon, Man., where he played most of his youth and junior hockey.

“My parents knew that I had a special touch for the game,” said Hunt. “They thought they needed to push me a bit more and we ended up moving to Brandon. It was a great move for my development.”

Hunt was drafted by the Moose Jaw Warriors with the 15th pick of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. Three years later, Minnesota selected him in the third round (#65 overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Canadian junior hockey players normally attract the attention of Team Canada around the time their under-15 season. While Hunt played for Moose Jaw, he also began participating in tournaments as a member of Team Canada. He played in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the U-18 IIHF World Junior Championship and appeared poised to become a central member of Canada’s 2022 U-20 team.

Hunt was understandably disappointed to have suffered consecutive hand injuries entering each of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships.

“It was very heartbreaking,” Hunt said. “I was really emotional for a day or two. The coaching staff came to me and gave me the option to go home or stay with the team and be with the boys. I decided to stick with the boys.”

It was the right move for Hunt. Despite being sidelined, he was able to spend time around the locker room and skate with the team. He was in the tunnel to the bench at the end of the tournament’s memorable gold-medal game, watching from mere feet away as Mason McTavish cleared a puck off the goal line in overtime before Kent Johnson scored to beat Finland and capture gold for Canada.

Hunt joined other scratches in rushing into the ensuing celebration and participated in the medal ceremony.

“I’ve got a gold medal and a ring coming in the mail soon, so that’s obviously a great feeling,” he said.

While Hunt was unable to play, he credits the tournament with rapidly advancing his growth heading into the 2022-23 season. He likens the experience to the eight-game stint he had with Iowa during the 2020-21 season, when several junior players had the opportunity to play with professional teams before returning to their respective clubs.

“It was pretty crazy how much I developed in those two or three months I was here,” Hunt said. “Going back to junior, guys aren’t as strong. At the same time, guys aren’t in spots where I need them to be. It’s pretty interesting. It’s easier, but at the same time it can be harder. When I look up and there’s supposed to be a guy there, you think, ‘Well, there goes that.’”

Now as a full-time member of the Iowa Wild, Hunt once again has access to the tools he will need to develop his game. Right now, he’s focused on spending as much of his time as he can watching clips of his shifts with assistant coach Nolan Yonkman, who he credits with building his confidence.

“As the season has progressed, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and my confidence has gone up,” he said. “It’s crazy how fast your mind can adapt to the game and it’s pretty cool to see.”

The American Hockey League is noticeably more physical than the Western Hockey League, which means that many young prospects spend time adding weight that will allow them to withstand the rigors of the 72-game season. While Hunt’s height and stature fit that of a prototypical defenseman, he actually has a different objective than weight gain in mind.

“Growing up I was more of a chubby kid,” he said with a laugh. “Big cheeks. I was a thick kid. I’m getting more lean now and working on lowering the body fat percentage.”

Hockey is a demanding sport, and the lives of many of Hunt’s peers revolve exclusively around their time at the rink. As Hunt has made the jump to professional hockey, he has found the time to develop not only his game, but also his interests off the ice.

The 20-year-old is fond of many items that fall outside the typical hockey player’s wardrobe, particularly hard-rock band T-shirts. While his sense of style occasionally invites good-natured ribbing from teammates, Hunt says he isn’t dressing for attention.

“I like being different,” he said. “By saying that, I’m not trying to draw attention at all. It’s just something that I enjoy. I’m really into art, and I think that the art I like translates to the clothing I wear and the tattoos I have.”

Hunt has loved art since his early teen years. As he’s grown, his interests have become too varied to pick out a particular movement as his favorite, but he tends to gravitate toward minimalism and neo-expressionism. He has lately been particularly drawn to the work of Terry Urban, a musical artist and painter who is prominent on social media.

Hunt credits social media with helping him discover new artists and develop his creative interests. He also pays close attention to how others build personas online.

“Your social media is your brand and you can show off who you are,” he said. “It’s really important as an athlete to be professional, but it can be more than just hockey for me.”

Hunt is very conscious of what he shares on his personal social media, which features a collection of street style and lifestyle images.

“I’m not posting just to post,” he said. “It’s OK to be a bit different. I think it’s unique, too. I’m not just a basic hockey Instagrammer.”

For now, Hunt has plenty of time to develop his game on the ice and his interests away from the rink. No one would expect him to be nearly finished on either front at 20 years of age, after all.