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Lane Hutson and Jacob Fowler hope Gothenburg will be golden

Photo: Shanna Martin/EOTP

A year ago, Team USA’s gold medal hopes at the World Junior Hockey Championships were dashed by six unanswered Canadian goals in the semifinals. That team did recover to win the bronze in a chaotic 8-7 overtime victory over Sweden, but this year’s squad — especially its eight returnees — want to do better.

The United States, widely considered to be the favourites for this year’s tournament, started their 2024 journey in the same way that their 2023 quest concluded: with a win over Sweden. Although the hosts jumped out to a 2-0 lead, the Americans responded with five in a row en route to a 5-3 victory.

Eyes On The Prize‘s European correspondent Patrik Bexell caught up separately with Jacob Fowler and Lane Hutson, the two Montreal Canadiens prospects on Team USA, after the game.

Patrik Bexell (PB): How does it feel to head into this tournament as a favourite for the gold medal? Does this win validate those opinions at all?

Lane Hutson (LH): It was a good game. It was pretty quiet, but our team capitalized on their mistakes and it was good to get the win. We don’t know what we can do [as a team] yet, but the expectation always has to be to come home with a medal, and we obviously want the colour to be gold.

Jacob Fowler (JF): You don’t want to take too much from the exhibition games. Still, I think that it’s a good step in the right direction, given that it’s our first game as a team and as a group trying to come together in a short tournament. That said, we definitely don’t want to get too high or too low in the exhibition games.

PB: Were there any growing pains adjusting to the bigger ice surface, especially from a defensive perspective?

LH: I think it’s always harder to defend, but when you have the puck, that makes it a little bit easier. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job, and all of our guys have done a pretty good job of being patient, killing [opposition] plays, and transitioning pucks.

JF: Our priority was to play the right way for a full 60 [minutes]. The first period wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t our best period. I thought we got better each shift as the game went on, and then there were a couple of big power play goals and a big hit in the second that kind of set the tone for the game.

There are little differences compared to what we’re used to over in the States. Things don’t quite happen as quickly, you have to play your angles a little deeper trying to make better reads. There’ll be some stuff that we’re going to do video on and clean up, but all in all I felt pretty comfortable and I want to get better as the tournament goes on.

PB: As a returning player, how has the last year prepared you for the second run?

LH: Being able to be on the ice during the summer [at the Canadiens development camp] is a huge advantage for everyone, but for me, it was especially great to learn from Adam Nicholas. I was able to then take that stuff and use it at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan and of course, the start of the season at Boston University.

PB: What are your personal expectations for this tournament?

JF: Well, Trey [Augustine] is an unbelievable goalie and a great guy. We were roommates at camp, so I’ve been able to get closer with him as the tournament has gone on. We’re going to push each other no matter who’s in the net, and we both have the same goal: to win a gold medal. The coaching staff will put the best guy in net, the guy that they think will get the job done. Win or lose, we’re going to be good friends, and hopefully we’ll win the gold medal.

PB: What can Canadiens fans expect from this tournament?

LH: I think for us to just bring a competitive energy and to have a lot of fun. We love the pressure. I know Jacob has played in some big moments himself and I think he’s going to be ready for it, and of course, I’m always excited for those moments.

JF: Lane’s obviously an exceptional hockey player and an even better guy off the ice. We’ll be best friends for this week — but when he gets back to Boston University and I go back to Boston College, we’re not going to be the closest friends. For the fans, I think it’s just important to know that the NCAA route takes time, and I think both of us are going to put in the work every single day so that we can make them proud in the future.

Interviews have been edited for clarity. Article compiled by Nathan Ni.

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