When Stan Butler took the job as head coach of the Canadian national U18 team, he knew that anything less than the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup would be a disappointment, and all of his players knew it as well. Yet they all pulled together and despite some early difficulties scoring goals, Butler made sure they all played as a team and went through the tournament with a perfect 5–0 record to win their eighth straight title.
“I´m really proud of this group of players,” he said in the aftermath of the team´s 7–3 win in the final against Sweden. “They all pulled together for one thing. We told them when we got here: this is about one team and one goal. We were one team and we chased one goal, which we got here today.”
You had two great goalies here in Dylan Wells and Carter Hart, who both played well. Was it a difficult decision to start Wells today?
“It´s because he played great yesterday, and he had the shutout against Sweden earlier, so it was an easy decision.”
The last time you played Sweden you faced the same goalie, Filip Gustavsson. You got a lot of shots on him but only beat him once. Were you afraid of the same thing happening today?
“Well no, I mean Canadian teams are pretty good when we play teams more than once – we do that in the playoffs, so one time a guy can fool us, but then we usually figure it out.”
You seemed to figure him out today. Was there a reason you came out of the gate so quick this game?
“I think we had a big scare with the Russians last night and we wanted to make sure that didn´t happen again today. We wanted to play our best game today and we got off to a good start. We probably deserved more goals in some of the other games, like last night, but today we got to the point where we needed to score.”
It was definitely a good start. How did it feel to be up 4–0 after one period?
“It felt great. It was probably even better to be 6–1 after two. Then we get a five-minute penalty and they scored two pretty quick goals, so that was another test of character for this group. Good teams always find a way to win games and that´s what this team is like – they´re like an elastic band – they stretched but they never broke.”
Why do you think that is? What made this group so special?
“I think the big thing about this group is they didn´t have as much success as they wanted last year at the Under-17 World Junior Challenge and they were determined to show everyone in our country that the ´98 group is a strong group of players. Coming into this tournament, we were going for our eighth consecutive championship so there was a lot of pressure on these guys – nobody wants to be on the team that ends the streak. Great teams play their best under pressure and these players showed their character.”
As a coach, did you have any special advice for these players?
“I say to them all the time, ´You get better or worse every day, you never stay the same.´ Every day that they´re preparing to reach their next goal, they´ve got to get better, they can´t stay the same. I think this group knows that and this is a great accomplishment, but this is a group that´s motivated and they want way more than this.”
Of course they want way more than this. As is the case every year, we will certainly see several of these players taken in the first round of next year´s NHL Entry Draft. Remember the names of these players, because many will be future stars in the world of hockey.