Mark and Dale Hunter walked back into Budweiser Gardens a little over 36 hours after leading Canada to a gold-medal victory at the 2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
By that point, they had been able to grab a little sleep, but the feelings associated with their 4-3 win over Russia in the gold-medal game were still very fresh as Mark, Team Canada’s general manager, and Dale, the team’s head coach, sat down alongside Team Canada and London Knights equipment manager Chris Maton to talk with Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs.
Mike Stubbs: Welcome back. Congratulations to all of you. Let’s start with just how difficult it is to actually win gold at the world juniors. Dale, is there any way to put that into words?
Dale Hunter: It’s really tough. The competition is outstanding. The Germans were tough, Finland, Russia, Sweden, the United States… They all have good teams. And it’s big ice over there so all of our players had to adapt to the big surface, with different angles and a different sort of a game, but we felt we kept getting better as the games went on.
Mark Hunter: You really don’t know how the moment is going to feel until that moment comes upon you. It was pretty special. To see what the players have to do and the coaching staff… The seven or eight months that we worked toward that goal of winning a gold… It was a moment that you will never forget.
Chris Maton: This was like a rock-star tour. It was a lot of fun from Day 1, beginning Dec. 6 in Oakville until now. There were a lot of moving parts, but everybody was great. From the players to the staff, everybody got along, and that’s what it takes to win gold.
Mike Stubbs: For so long, the question has been asked about Dale coaching Team Canada. Fans wanted to know when it was going to happen. Mark, what made this the time for Dale to become head coach?
Mark Hunter: I got involved and I said to Dale: ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s go and do it.’ He loves challenges, and the challenge was there. Of course, I didn’t have to worry once he took hold of it. Our assistant coaches were excellent. Everybody worked together, and I think it is so important to have everyone working together and sharing ideas and working toward that common goal to win a gold medal for Canada. It really was a group effort from the coaches to the trainers to the players and the support staff. It was huge. It makes you proud.
Mike Stubbs: Let’s go to the gold-medal game. This was a team that you had lost to in the tournament — lost 6-0. How did the preparation go for the second game against Russia?
Dale Hunter: I think it was an advantage to play Russia in the round robin. We got to analyze them and decide what kind of style we would have to play. They play a heavy game. They are very skilled but they had some big guys. They were bigger than us, plus they had the skill. We had to play more of a speed game, and I thought our players really picked up the pace.
Mike Stubbs: Talk about the early penalties against Russia. They had four power plays in the first period, and you killed them all off. How did you do that?
Mike Stubbs: Even with all of those penalty kills, Russia still scored first. How did you keep everyone positive after that?
Mark Hunter: I’m going to remember that goal. He seemed to sneak in there. It isn’t easy to get a goal like that. It wasn’t the prettiest goal but it was a goal. Every hockey player has to understand that you don’t have to go end to end. You just have to be in position at the right time to get your skate on a puck or your stick on a puck and deflect it in. That is a goal I will remember.
Mike Stubbs: Barrett Hayton. He suffers a shoulder injury against Finland, and there were so many questions about whether he would even play, and then he scores the tying goal in the third period. Can you talk about his performance?
Dale Hunter: He was banged up a bit but he just wanted to play. He had the grit and courage to come out and play through it and shoot a puck like a laser. He played hard and he gave it his all and by doing that, he got rewarded. That was a heck of a shot by him.
Mike Stubbs: The go-ahead goal by Akil Thomas. Take us back to the bench and what was happening right before he scored.
Chris Maton: I will never forget that goal. Akil didn’t play a lot, but when he did, he played well, and that final goal was just lights-out. It was great.
Mike Stubbs: Dale, what was the last minute of the game like from your perspective on the bench?
Mike Stubbs: Finally, the black jerseys. Fans in Canada certainly took notice that you kept wearing them. Was there a story behind them?