It’s a big day for the University of British Columbia as they, for the first time since the 2013-14 season, will have a returning head coach with the men’s hockey program. Sven Butenschon is expected to be officially announced as the full-time hire by the UBC Thunderbirds.
The hiring comes as no surprise to many, but after cycling through four coaches in four seasons, nothing seemed to be a given in regards to the UBC job-hunt. Butenschon will now add some stability to a men’s hockey program which, although finding itself amongst the best competition in Canada West, has some work to do in order to take a step up to the next level.
As one might expect, the hiring serves as a relief for Butenschon who looks to continue to build on the foundation he set last season.
“It’s been a great year here [at UBC]”, says Butenschon. “I’m super excited because we have some time to plan. The players, they know what I expect and the kind of atmosphere I expect around the dressing room and the style of play”.
Last year, UBC’s style of play was just enough to squeak them into the playoffs with an improbable run in February which saw them track down and overtake the Lethbridge Pronghorns while going undefeated in a two-week span to capture the final playoff spot up for grabs. Although the Thunderbirds were swept in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Calgary Dinos, their comeback remains one of the highlights of the 2016-17 U SPORTS hockey season.
After stumbling to a 1-6 start, Butenschon’s UBC Thunderbirds ended the season on a 7-3-2 run after the winter break. Photo: Rich Lam/UBC Athletics
Despite a triumphant end to their regular season, it certainly didn’t start that way. UBC was shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty in late August, with head coach Adam Shell opting to leave the program just days before the start of training camp after just one season at the helm. With such little time before the season, Butenschon was thrust into the interim head coaching position as the Thunderbirds struggled to take flight early on. It’s been awhile since the UBC men’s hockey program has found the spotlight for the right reasons, but now that they’re there, it’s time to take control of it.
The hiring of Butenschon answers a number of questions for UBC this offseason, but more importantly, it eliminates nearly every excuse. Having finished 2016-17 on such a strong note, and now having the element of coaching stability heading into 2017-18, a strong recruiting season is the only thing UBC needs to position themselves for success in 2017-18.
“Some of our players have been in that dressing room listening to four different voices over four years”, says Butenschon. “Our guys were great soldiers this year, and they could’ve found excuses, but they battled throughout the year”.
UBC is already out of the blocks with one confirmed recruit for 2017-18 in the person of Graham Millar from the Edmonton Oil Kings. With another solid crop of WHLers at Canada West school’s disposal, especially out of Saskatchewan, UBC has an opportunity to cash in and round out their roster.
“A lot of the kids I’m talking to want to see how this pans out, just with the school and the coaching decision. Once this gets done and we start to put the other pieces together, we’re gonna start moving forward and build a contending roster”, says Butenschon.
Last week the Ryerson Rams also promoted their current interim head coach to the full-time position with the hiring of Johnny Duco, and have since landed recruits Steven Harland and Tre Folkes with at least one more letter of intent being signed, and more expected announcements through to the end of April. Although the hiring of Butenschon to the full-time position will inevitably result in some assurance for potential recruits, Canada West’s offseason timeline moves at a notoriously slower rate than that of the OUA and the AUS.
Now as a full-time coach, Butenschon joins Laurentian’s Craig Duncanson and SMU’s Trevor Stienburg as the only head coaches in U SPORTS MHKY with NHL experience (assuming Darren Lowe retirement rumours are true), but has substantially more than both Duncanson and Stienburg. Butenschon spent 140 games in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Edmonton, the New York Islanders, and finally Vancouver, not at all that far from the program he now leads as head coach. Butenschon is also the only head coach with Olympic experience as a player (assuming Darren Lowe retires), having played for Germany at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
It’s not the first summer that the UBC men’s hockey program has looked forward to a brighter future with a new head coach, but there’s more reason than any of the last three seasons to believe that this time, the hype is real. But of course, hockey can be a strange animal. Butenschon knows full well, things don’t always go according to plan. But for now, the focus for UBC will be to continue the momentum built from the second half of last season, and take this program to the next level, one step at a time.
“We’re not just thinking for this year, we’re thinking long-term in building this program up to be one of the top programs in Canada.” – Sven Butenschon
You can listen to the full interview with Sven below.