MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 5: USA players celebrate after a 5-4 shoot-out win over Canada in the gold medal game of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Fourth U.S. U20 gold tops tournament highlights
Like a great hockey team, the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship got better every day, climaxing with the U.S.’s 5-4 shootout win over Canada for gold.
Among many unforgettable memories, this final was the jewel in the crown. “Everyone had so much energy built up and was running all over the ice,” said U.S. forward Troy Terry, who scored the shootout winner to give the U.S. its fourth World Junior gold of all time. “It was really an awesome hockey game.”
The University of Denver star inscribed his name in hockey history with his five-hole masterpiece on Canada’s Carter Hart. It was the same spot Terry picked while scoring three times in the shootout in the U.S.’s 4-3 semi-final win over Russia, prompting comparisons to the heroics of Canada’s Jonathan Toews at the 2007 World Juniors and the U.S.’s T.J. Oshie at the 2014 Olympics.
The gold medal game was a magical display of run-and-gun hockey, the kind you just don’t see in defence-obsessed pro leagues. And the U20 Americans came through big time.
It was another milestone for USA Hockey. This success didn’t come out of nowhere. The roster featured 17 alumni of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, including Terry, tournament all-stars Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy, and U.S. goals leader Colin White.
American goalie Tyler Parsons put on an epic show, too, as Canada outshot the U.S. 50-36. “Crazy,” said White. “Five saves in the shootout. He was just unbelievable. Hell of a player.”
Want the definition of guts and character in hockey? Rallying from deficits of 2-0 and 4-2 and killing off five penalties before winning the big game in extra time. That’s living the American dream.
The World Juniors have been amazingly blessed with wild, hard-fought finals. Six of the last eight gold medal games have been decided by one goal, and five of the last eight have gone into extra time. For thrills and chills, the barnburner in front of 20,173 fans at the Bell Centre on Thursday night rivaled the previous all-North American final, 2010’s 6-5 U.S. triumph on John Carlson’s overtime goal in Saskatoon.
“It’s incredible,” said Terry. “It’s something that I’ll remember forever, being able to win with this group of guys and just how exciting the game was.”
Even in defeat, Canadian defenceman Jeremy Lauzon will carry away vivid memories: “It was pretty awesome. Sometimes the crowd was so loud that I couldn’t even talk to my partner.”
Overall, the U.S. went unbeaten in seven games in Toronto and Montreal and topped both Canada and Russia (their two biggest rivals) twice en route to gold. At the U20 level, the Americans now hold clear bragging rights over archrival Canada. The two North American powers have met in four World Junior finals, and the United States has prevailed three times (2004, 2010, 2017) to Canada’s one (1997).
When you factor in the 2013 gold medal in Ufa, Russia, the U.S. is also the most successful World Junior nation so far this decade with three titles, one up on Finland (2014, 2016).
Yet even after tearfully settling for silver, host Canada can hold its head high. The tournament’s highest-scoring team with 35 goals attacked its opponents in waves. MVP Thomas Chabot put on a two-way defence clinic while logging massive minutes. The Canadian forwards entertained and inspired, too, from the slickness of captain Dylan Strome to the smarts of Matt Barzal, from the speed of Mathieu Joseph to the grit of Julien Gauthier.
Hockey is a game of inches, and Canada could easily be celebrating a victory right now. In a nation with a gold-or-bust mentality, fans need to be forgiving this year.
The European nations came away with moments to cherish as well. Edging Sweden 2-1 in overtime in the bronze medal game, the Russians earned their seventh consecutive World Junior medal, going back to 2011’s gold. Captain Kirill Kaprizov’s electrifying moves and never-say-die attitude enabled him to amass a tournament-high nine goals and three assists. Ilya Samsonov deserved his Best Goaltender award after his fantastic 38-save performance in that bronze tilt.
Sweden’s Alexander Nylander showcased his cool playmaking and tied Kaprizov for the tournament points lead. Captain Joel Eriksson Ek sniped with confidence and 16-year-old defenceman Rasmus Dahlin had flashes of brilliant skating and puckhandling. Yet this tournament was underwhelming for rookie head coach Tomas Monten’s squad, as the Juniorkronona failed to capture a medal for the third straight year. Nonetheless, the Swedes have made the final four 11 straight times, and a return to the podium can’t be far away.
Denmark made some happy history with its first U20 wins over Finland and the Czech Republic. Mathias From’s overtime winner versus the Czechs on a solo rush was a contender for goal of the tournament. The Danes placed fifth, an all-time high. “That’s unbelievable,” said forward Joachim Blichfeld. “We’re a small country, so it’s amazing.” It’s also a great prelude to hosting the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Copenhagen and Herning.
Switzerland enjoyed the international coming-out party of 18-year-old sniper Nico Hischier, who led his team with seven points (4+3) and could be the top pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Exciting overtime wins over the Czechs and Danes helped the Swiss finish seventh.
Both halves of the former Czechoslovakia had their ups and down in Eastern Canada. The Czechs only earned one regulation win, but it was a doozy, a 2-1 opening win over defending champion Finland on Michael Spacek’s goal with 1:18 left. The Czechs also hung tough with Canada in the quarter-final, keeping it tied till the halfway point, but ultimately falling 5-2. For an unheralded Slovak team featuring captain Erik Cernak in his fourth World Juniors, the highlight was surviving into the quarter-finals after topping Latvia 4-2.
The Finns, of course, had the roughest ride of any medal contender. Expectations were just too high after Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine led them to 2016 gold in Helsinki. “Sometimes there’s just bad luck,” said defenceman Juuso Valimaki. “In this tournament, goal-scoring was hard for us.” At the Bell Centre, they scored just 12 goals in six games, finishing ninth. Coach Jukka Rautakorpi was fired mid-tournament and replaced by Jussi Ahokas, who led Finland to World U18 gold last April.
Finland became the only defending World Junior champion ever to play in the relegation round, where they defeated Latvia in two straight games. For the underdog Latvians, it was another valuable learning experience, and goalie Mareks Mitens battled valiantly, facing 170 shots in five outings.
When you’re dealing with the world’s top teenage hockey players, magic and tears are inevitable. That combo keeps hockey fans entranced. It’s hard not to start looking forward already to the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.