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Hunter Set for Big WHL Season

BRANDON — Rene Hunter isn’t the type of young hockey player who is likely to talk your ear off. Shy and respectful, he’s one of the nicest young players you could ever hope to meet. It’s just that he prefers to let his play on the ice do the talking.

The 20-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman has long been considered one of the finest young aboriginal players in Manitoba. A former member of Team Manitoba at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship, Hunter has come out of Ebb and Flow First Nation to become a regular on the Wheat Kings defensive unit.

Rene Hunter, Brandon Wheat Kings

Rene Hunter, Brandon Wheat Kings

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder with the big shot from the point, will be heading into his fourth season with the Wheaties. Last year, injuries hurt his progress and he missed more than 20 games, but in 55 outings, he had two goals and 10 assists and took another step toward his dream of one day playing pro hockey.

Not bad for a kid who came out of a small community and simply outworked every other kid around him. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he came from a hockey-playing family.

His father, Rene Hunter Sr., played in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in the 1970s and then spent many seasons starring for Senior and First Nation’s teams all over Manitoba.

Like so many kids in Manitoba, it was his dad who got him started in the game.

“My dad would always take me to the rink,” Hunter said quietly. “I started skating at a young age and I liked it. I guess I started skating when I was about three and played my first actual hockey game was when I was five years old.

“There were only a few of us from Ebb and Flow and my dad was our coach for awhile. He’s the one who got us going. I had to go into Ste. Rose to start playing peewee and then went to Dauphin to play bantam and played midget with (the AAA) Parkland Rangers.”

It was with Parkland when he started impressing coaches throughout Manitoba. At 16, he moved on to play for the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and then finished the season by playing for Team West at the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. At 17, he earned a spot with the Wheat Kings.

“It all just happened so quick,” he said. “I was just out there trying to do my best and all of a sudden I was playing here.”

Hunter has a big shot.

Hunter has a big shot.

And here means Brandon, where he’s entered his fourth year in the best junior hockey league in the world. This year, he could really make some noise around the game. Of course, he’ll admit it isn’t going to be easy to, one day, leave Brandon.

“My four years here has been really great,” he said. “It’s been up and down and yet we still find a way to go through it. It’s really good. I like it here.

“It’s a pretty quiet town. I don’t think I’d want to play in a bigger town. And the fans are really into it. It’s a great place to play.”

In 1`83 WHL games over three seasons, Hunter has six goals and 34 assists. A stay-at-home defenseman, he had his best season 2010-11, playing 66 games, tallying 13 points and finishing with a plus-four rating. This year, he’d like to stay healthy enough to match that season. After all, he really wants to play pro hockey one day.

Hunter defends against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Hunter defends against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

“Yeah, that’s my goal,” he said. “I want to play pro hockey and see what happens, but if I could get a scholarship I’d like to play university hockey, too.”

“I just want to prove to myself that I can play at the top of my game. Be the best player I can be. That’s pretty much my goal this season.”

Hunter is not only aware of his skills, but he’s also aware of what he means to his community. He’ll be the first to tell you that he understands the responsibility he has to being a good citizen and a role model for his community.

“I know a lot of young kids are looking up to me right now as I continue here,” he said. “It feels pretty good.”

 (With files from Scott Billeck)

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