Hunt a fan favourite with Stockton

Maple Ridge's Garet Hunt has jersey retired by ECHL team.

Garet Hunt of Maple Ridge has enjoyed a career as a much-loved pro hockey player in California

Garet Hunt of Maple Ridge has enjoyed a career as a much-loved pro hockey player in California

Maple Ridge pro hockey tough guy Garet Hunt had his jersey retired as one of the last official acts of the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder.

“It ranks right up there as one my highest personal moments in my hockey career,” he said from the offices of the California team, with which he served as team captain, enforcer and assistant coach last season.

Fittingly, he also scored in the final game against the Bakersfield Condors – the last goal in Stockton Thunder history.

The team will be relocated to Glen Falls, New York next season by its owner, the Calgary Flames, and the American Hockey League affiliate will move in, becoming the Stockton Heat.

The 27-year-old Hunt is the face of the franchise, and holds team records for games played (439), points (157) and fights (163).

Hunt said Stockton has a blue collar fan base – not unlike his hometown, or the Vancouver Giants fans who watched him play junior, and that’s probably why they appreciate his approach to the game.

“My style of play has fit in well. It’s pretty rough here. Rough around the edges.”

He’s the face of the franchise and a fan favourite.

“It’s not that he’s the best player. It’s that he always gives you everything he has,” said Thunder booster club president Robert Holzer. “He’ll go against players who are six-foot-four or six-foot-five, and he’ll show no fear. You appreciate that about him.”

The feeling is mutual. Hunt bought a house in Stockton, and plans to stay there.

“I’m entrenched in the city.”

The 27-year-old played nine games in the AHL in 2010-2011. There is an outside chance that the Stockton Heat would consider a roster spot for a local favourite, known for grit and hard work.

“I can bring leadership and do whatever it takes,” he said. “Whether it’s standing up for a teammate or getting the crowd going – I’m obviously willing to do that.”

Failing that, there are other ECHL teams on his radar. His brother Trevor, who plays pro hockey in Holland, assures Garet there would be an opportunity for him in the Dutch league, as well.

Long term, Garet sees himself coaching. He enjoyed learning the ropes last year.

Just stay in the game, and good things can happen for you, he asserts.

“All you’ve got to do is work hard. They used to say I was too small to be a tough guy.”

Hunt has one of the toughest jobs in sports – a hockey enforcer – and it has been made tougher by the fact that he gives up about half a foot in height and 30 pounds of weight to many of his opponents. He’s listed at five-foot-eight and 190 pounds, but there’s not an ounce of fear.

“It’s just willingness. You’re going to lose fights, no matter what – you can’t start worrying about winning or losing.

“Just show up.”

Hunt played a season with the Chilliwack Chiefs in the BCHL, then moved up to the Vancouver Giants for four seasons in the WHL, ending in 2007-2008, when  he put up 18 points and 239 penalty minutes in 62 games.

The next year, he went to the Thunder, and he’s been with the California club since. Some of his most memorable moments have come when his gloves hit the ice, and last season he compiled 269 penalty minutes in 58 games. His highlight tape had more than just fights – Hunt also had 13 goals and 21 points.

His parents came from Maple Ridge for the final game, and were on the ice with him for the video tribute and jersey retirement ceremony.

For the man of the hour, it brought back all the times his folks took him to a morning practice when it was still dark outside, and cheered him on during games. Hunt was glad they could share in the fan appreciation.

“It was a nice way to say thank-you to them.”