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Hunter returns from World Juniors

(Marc Smith/DiscoverMooseJaw.com)  There was a bit more luggage coming back from Buffalo with Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Tim Hunter.

Hunter helped guide Team Canada back to the top of the podium at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, beating Sweden, 3-1, to capture the gold medal on Friday.

With gold medal in toe, Hunter rejoined the Warriors on Monday.

“It was really thrilling to be on that bench when we won the game, it was two years in the making,” said Hunter, who also won a silver medal at the 2017 tournament with Canada. “We really felt comfortable with the way we played, we got better through the (gold medal) game, put ourselves in position to win the gold medal in the third period. It was just the thrill of a lifetime.”

The hero of the gold medal game ended up being a rival in the WHL as Swift Current Broncos forward Tyler Steenbergen scored his only goal of the tournament to put Canada in front with 1:40 remaining in regulation of the gold medal game.

Hunter said Steenbergen coming through in that moment was a testament to what players are willing to do to capture gold for their country.

“To be one of the best players in the Western Hockey League, leading scorer and to go to the tournament and accept the 13th forward role, he was a happy guy every day at the rink, never complained, never pouted and that’s what Hockey Canada is all about,” said Hunter.

“Brett (Howden, the Warriors’ captain) was the same thing, relegated to playing 14 minutes a night, only killing penalties, no power play time, but he accepted, wanted to get out and get the job done for the team.”

Howden finished with three goals and seven points in seven games at the tournament. Hunter said he saw his captain take his game to another level right from the selection camp through the gold medal game.

“It took a while for the Hockey Canada people to really believe in Brett 100-percent, they heard it from me what kind of player he could be and as the tournament went on, he started to grow on them and they’d never seen Brett play better,” he said. “I talked to Dominique Ducharme before the game against Sweden, he said (Howden’s line) is going to be the key to drive the engine to get the other lines skating and they really were, they led the way in that department.”

After seeing Howden take his game to that level, Hunter said he now wants to see him implement that into his game back with the Warriors over the second half of this season.

“I’ve appealed to Brett all along about playing a grittier, faster game and he’s really got more bite in his compete and battle level and he showed it in the tournament,” said Hunter. “He’s going to play more than 14 minutes here, so he won’t be able to push the pace as much, but when we need it, I know he’s got it and he knows he has it too.”

Hunter added that Howden’s face-off abilities really shown through during the tournament and that’s something they will lean on with Moose Jaw.

As for Hunter, he has also been able to take his coaching to another level over the past month and that’s something he’s focused on bringing back to the first place Warriors.

“I learned a lot in the month away from the team with the other coaches,” he said. “We tried different things against different types of systems, penalty kill and power play, so it was a great learning experience and I have a lot of new things to bring to the team, so I’m really excited to implementing some of that stuff.”

The Warriors went 9-1-0-1 over the 11 games that Hunter was with Team Canada.

“Mark (O’Leary) and Scott (King) did a great job while I was away and I knew they would, they did a terrific job,” said Hunter.

“It was about winning and we won, but now it’s about winning here and I have a lot of new tools to work with and our team is a much better team than when I left it.”

Hunter will be back on the bench for the Warriors on Wednesday when they host the Calgary Hitmen at Mosaic Place. Howden is expected to rejoin the team later this week and suit up on Friday night at home against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

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