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2021 World Junior Championship Recap: Red, White, Blue, and Gold

The United States beats Canada again.

Canada v United States: Gold Medal Game - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

What an absolute fun tournament capped off by an excellent gold medal game. In the end it was Team USA winning by knocking off one of the best teams in Canadian National team history, 2-0. With the amount of talent on both sides of the ice it’s likely that a lot of the players on the ice tonight will be facing off in international competitions for many years to come.

The US jumped out to an early lead, matched Canada for two periods and then held on at the end. An argument could be made that this could be another example, like the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning, of a team, in this case Canada, not having faced adversity until it counted and not being able to kick their game into the next level. Or, it could be that the US had a really, really good team that could keep pace with the Canadians in regards to speed and depth.

Gold Medal Game

USA 2, Canada 0

For a period that ended 1-0 and only had one penalty, it was a pretty fun period twenty minutes. The game started with Canada driving play early. They were helped out by an American team that fumbled the puck a few times, but once the opening jitters went away, the play evened out.

Just past midway through the period, the US line of Cole Caulfied, Matt Beniers , and Matt Boldy had a really solid shift in the Canadian zone. They handed the momentum over to the top line of Trevor Zegras (tied for points lead), Arthur Kaliyev (seminfinal hero), and Alex Turcotte.

With some tired Canadians on the ice, the US was able to work the puck around the boards. Drew Helleson let the shot go and Turcotte was in position in front of the net to deflect the puck past Devon Levi. The US had the lead. It was the first even strength goal the Canadians had allowed in the tournament as well as the first go-ahead goal they had surrendered.

Having two lines that could compete head-to-head with the top Canadian lines was a boon for the Americans. Several times during the period they were able to keep Canada’s best players pinned in their own zone. The best way to keep Canada from scoring is to keep their offense as far away from the US net as possible.

Thirty seconds into the second period, the Zegras line took advantage of a bad bounce to double their lead.

Levi is tracking the play well and his eyes follow Turcotte from in front of his net to his left where the puck should have gone. The only problem, it hit the side of the net and stayed to the goaltender’s right, where Zegras was stationed. The Ducks’ prospect quickly tucked it past Levi for the American’s second goal.

It seemed the Canadians were a little stunned to be down two goals early in the second period and it took awhile for them to get back into their flow. Oddly enough it was while they were shorthanded against a US team that had a 42.9% success rate on the power play that Team Canada picked up a little life. Bowen Byram had their best chance as he came in alone on on Spencer Knight and rang one off the post.

With a little life, and the defense contributing on offense, Team Canada pressured the US, but Knight was up to the task and his teammates cleaned up the front of the net, preventing the Canadians from rebound chances.

This wouldn’t be the first time Canada had trailed in the gold medal game entering the third period. In fact, just a year ago they were down 2-1 to Russia after two periods. They came back to win that one. In order to do that, they would have to neutralize the Americans’ speed and sustain pressure in the offensive zone.

They did an excellent job of taking care of the first task as they pinned the US in their own zone for most of the period. The only problem, they never really figured out the American defense. There just wasn’t much space for them to work the puck around like they had against other teams. Shots were blocked, passing lanes were clogged and rebounds were swept away.

Perhaps their best chance came during one of America’s few forays into the Canadian zone. Two US players collided and the puck squirted free. The turnover led to a Connor McMichael breakaway. A strong backcheck rushed him a bit and he couldn’t beat Spencer Knight.

Knight came up strong again with just over two minutes to go in the game. Connor Zary had two chances in close, but the goaltender was able to pin his skate against the post and the puck stayed out of the net. Time ticked down and even with the extra skater, Team Canada couldn’t put a puck in the net. Knight finished with thirty-four saves while his future teammate in Florida, Devon Levi, had 21.

Bronze Medal Game

Finland 4, Russia 1

The two teams that were on the outside looking in started off the day with a close game. It’s always interesting to see how teams in this situation react. Do they mail in the effort because they’re not playing for a gold medal or do they focus on finishing strong and taking the last spot on the podium?

Russia had the better start to the game. Maybe they were more relaxed with the pressure of winning the tournament removed and they were able to play the style that coach Igor Larianov wanted to see out of them. Their passing was crisper and they started off with the first eight shots of the game. One of those shots found the back of the net.

Ilya Safonov is in the right spot to bat the rebound home, but it was Lightning prospect Maxim Groshev who set it all up. His play along the boards has been solid all tournament long and in this case he makes a nice play to poke the puck free. With a little space he pulls it to his backhand and gets a shot on net. It’s not the hardest shot ever taken on ice, but it handcuffs Kari Piironien and allows Safonov to put the rebound home.

After the goal, the Finnish team picked up their play. The shot differential started to shrink and the play on the ice evened up. They had several good chances, but Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov was there to deny them. Coming off of a rough semifinal loss to Canada, the young goaltender showed why the Nashville Predators made him a first round draft pick this past offseason.

The Russians escaped the first period with the lead, but the second frame was pretty much all Finland. While the shots ended up close to even (10-9 Finland) the best chances all seemed to be going to the team in blue and white. Five minutes into the period, captain Anton Lundell (a Florida Panthers prospect) tipped home the tying goal.

This would be a reoccurring theme in the game. Finland was able to control the front of the net when they needed to while most of the chances from Russia came from the perimeter and they weren’t able to generate many second chances.

The period continued without much action either way. There was a lot of play in the neutral zone and along the boards, but neither team creating much in the way of dangerous chances. It appeared that fatigue was starting to catch up with both clubs.

With a medal on the line and only twenty minutes left in the game things did pick up a little in the third period. Again it was Team Finland pressing the action. If deflecting shots from the point worked for the first goal, why not try it again?

This time it was Juuso Parssinen deflecting the point shot from Mikael Pyyhtia, although if Parssinen had missed it, Ben Korhonen was there as well. That’s net-front presence at its finest. Once again the Finns had erased another early deficit. Now they just needed to make sure the Russians didn’t mount a comeback.

They did just that, as they continued to frustrate the Russian offense. A poorly-timed high-sticking penalty by Vasili Podkolzin (although it was accedental, as he ran into his own teammate and that pushed his stick into the face of the Finnish player. While Finland didn’t score, or even record a shot on net, it did bleed four minutes off of the clock late in the game.

With Askarov out of the net Finland added two empty-net goals (including one by Lundell) to secure the victory and their first bronze medal since 2006. Granted they have won three gold medals since then, so no need to worry about them. For Russia, it was their first time they had lost a bronze medal game.