Canadian’s hockey dreams lead to Las Vegas

Luke Hunter left behind family and the farm for a shot at the Wranglers

Sat, Oct 4, 2008 (2 a.m.)

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Luke Hunter, 23, is a forward who is trying out for the Las Vegas Wranglers. He played five junior seasons at Swift Current and one at the University of Calgary, then took last year off to tend to his family’s 11,000-acre farm in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan.

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  • Luke Hunter discusses the healing of a hip injury, with no medicine or surgery, when he was 8 years old.
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  • Hunter on his affable, outgoing demeanor.
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  • Hunter on he and his four brothers hanging up their ice skates last year to tend to the family’s 11,000-acre farm in Saskatchewan and helping their ill father.
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The five Hunter boys unanimously decided to quit playing hockey a year ago to help their sick father with the family’s 11,000-acre farm in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan.

Planting wheat, peas and lentils, maintaining combines and other machines, hauling grain, shoveling bins, picking rocks and spraying chemicals -- among other chores -- demanded 18 hours a day.

Before reporting to Las Vegas to try out for the Wranglers, who opened camp Friday morning at the Las Vegas Ice Center, Luke Hunter again was called home by his father, Lorne.

“I got there at 10:30 at night, we worked until 1:30 in the morning and then I rose at 5:30 a.m.,” Luke Hunter said. “We didn’t finish until 3:30 in the morning. It’s harvest time. It’s a full-time job. A lot of hands are required.”

A year ago, Luke and his brothers didn’t pause in deciding to hang up their ice skates for the season.

“We figured it was best to support the family at that time,” said Hunter, 23. “Family comes first, above and beyond anything else in life. When all else fails, you know your family will stand behind you.”

Hunter’s family members often do stand behind, and next to and around, each other when they tour Canada as a Southern gospel musical group.

Luke plays piano and bass guitar, and he sings. The five Hunter brothers produced a CD -- “worship rock,” Luke said -- last year in Nashville. All of the Hunters play multiple instruments.

A grandfather of Luke’s played guitar, banjo, piano and the saxophone until he passed away at 84.

“Since I was a little kid, my parents said I’ll enjoy music longer than hockey,” he said. “The body can only take so much of the physical stuff. It’s definitely a passion of mine.”

As is farming. Lorne Hunter was raised on a dairy farm but found grains more profitable. Barley, durum, and canary and flax seed also are planted on the family’s large operation.

“There’s an old adage,” said Luke Hunter, “once a farm boy always a farm boy.”

He didn't want to discuss his father’s illness, but he said Lorne is doing well now. Luke said his father built up the farm to take care of his boys in the future.

“It was a tough time on the farm,” Luke said. “There was a lot of stress, a lot of work with us boys gone. He was unable to take care of everything himself. His health was not enabling him to do that.

“We decided to take care of dad and stay home.”

Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan has known of J.J. Hunter, the oldest of the brothers, for years. J.J. played in the American Hockey League for four seasons.

He and Luke’s other three brothers are remaining on the farm this season to allow Luke to pursue his hockey dreams.

Luke Hunter played five junior seasons for Swift Current in the Western Hockey League. He spent 2006-07 at the University of Calgary, collecting five goals and six assists in 31 games.

“Ultimately, when it came down to this season, with the amount of time and effort I’ve put into hockey, I didn’t want to have any regrets,” he said. “The rest of the family told me to go for it.

“They said, if you don’t do it now, you’ll never get that opportunity again. I didn’t want to look back when I’m 35 or 40 and regret not having done something that I worked so hard toward my whole life.”

His uncle, two-time Olympic alpine skier “Jungle” Jim Hunter, helped Luke prepare for his Wranglers tryout with a summer regimen that consisted of almost six hours of training every day.

Most of that entailed weight work in the gym, biking, and running sprints, stairs and hills. They’d spend 90 minutes on the ice. Luke rested when his body couldn’t go anymore.

“My uncle trains athletes for a living,” said Luke Hunter. “I want this more than anything. It’s any kid’s dream to be part of a professional league with the ultimate goal being the NHL.

“I’d love nothing more than to be here and be a part of the Wranglers.”

As religious as his family is, Hunter doesn’t preach. In fact, it takes some prodding to even get him to talk about how important religion is to his family.

They no doubt had their beliefs reinforced when Luke was 8. He had a deteriorating hip condition, called Perthes disease. Doctors doubted he would walk again, much less play hockey.

Within a couple of weeks, however, the condition healed, without a surgical procedure or any medical assistance.

The Hunters call it their miracle.

With some hesitation, Luke Hunter talked about being raised in a strict Christian home and how his hip never has hampered his hockey.

“I can’t really explain what happened,” he said. “It healed and went back to being absolutely perfect. I’ve had no problems since. I don’t know what else to say.”

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