This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves C Hunter Bailes.
SHL Digest: Today we’re talking to the captain of the SHL’s most successful team. Hunter, glad to speak with you.
Hunter Bailes: How ya doin’?
SHLD: Good, thanks. But not as good as the Gray Wolves! What do you think is the secret to your success so far?
HB: Well, we’re a damn strong team! But if I had to point to one thing as the key for us, it’s the Bear [G Dirk Lundquist]. When you go into a game and know that it’s a guaranteed win if you can score two or three goals, that gives you a big boost as a team. The Bear takes the pressure off the rest of us.
SHLD: Last season, you had the second-best record in the league, but you didn’t make it to the Finals. Did that motivate you for this year?
HB: Absolutely. Actually, that’s one of the things that impresses me about this team. When you have a year like we did last year, it’s easy to rest on your laurels or say, you know, Anchorage can’t be that good again. But nobody in here had that attitude. To a man, everyone has said, “Okay, how can we get better?” We’re determined to take it to another level.
SHLD: What have you done to take it to the next level?
HB: We’ve become better at matching up to the styles of other teams. Last season, we were all about the trapping and suffocating defense, controlling the pace of play. That worked really well, obviously, but it left us vulnerable against faster teams. If they were able to avoid our trap and skate around our defense, we couldn’t keep up. So we’ve worked on developing that extra gear to match up with speedier teams.
SHLD: And you’ve done all this despite changing coaches in the offseason, which is rare for a team as good as yours. Would you say that Ron Wright has helped you improve?
HB: Coach Wright has been huge for us. I mean, Coach [Martin] Delorme was a great coach too. But Coach Wright is something else. For one thing, he’s an incredibly hard worker, and he makes sure we work hard. And he’s never satisfied. If we go out and demolish a team but we had a bad shift or made a couple sloppy passes, that’s what we’re going to hear about.
SHLD: Sounds pretty harsh!
HB: Yeah, but we don’t take it that way. We take it as a reminder that there are always ways to get better, and to never stop fighting to improve, even if you’re winning. It’s helped us keep our focus.
SHLD: Let’s shift the focus to you now.
HB: Aw man, I was hoping we could skip that.
SHLD: Sorry! But you’ve been one of the league’s leading goal scorers both last year and this year, even though the Wolves aren’t really known for offense. Do you think that playing for a defense-first team has hurt your reputation?
HB: Honestly, I don’t give a damn. The only thing I want to be known as is a champion. I’m perfectly fine flying under the radar if I can help us win the Vandy.
SHLD: We’ve heard that you’re also involved in charity work. Can you tell us about that?
HB: Sure! I have an older brother who suffers from cystic fibrosis, so I started a charity called Hunter’s Crazy Fighters to raise money to fight it.
SHLD: Sounds like a worthy cause.
HB: We’ve raised over $200,000 so far, and I’ve talked to the team about holding an annual charity event to support the cause. We’re looking at doing a casino night in the spring.
SHLD: Very cool! Well, good luck with your cause, and with the rest of the season.
HB: I hope the next time we talk will be after we win the Finals!