Canada wins thriller

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JANUARY 5: Team Canada celebrating with the championship trophy after a 3-1 gold medal game win over Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Steenbergen nets winner with 1:40 left

Tyler Steenbergen scored the biggest goal of his life, and Canada won the gold medal by defeating Sweden, 3-1.

Steenbergen had played just 3:17 through two periods, had but four shots in the entire tournament, and had yet to score. In two days he'll turn 20, so he can consider this an early birthday present of the highest quality.

The goal couldn't have happened without Drake Batherson's determined forecheck. His tenacity produced a turnover that led to a superb slap-pass from the point by Connor Timmins. It was deflected in front by Steenbergen, breaking a 1-1 tie and sending Canada on to World Junior gold for the first time since 2015.

"I just about blacked out when it happened," Steenbergen enthused after. "I'm at a loss for words. And to win it for all the crowd that came out for us was pretty special." 

"They made a perfect pass to the player off to the side," Sweden goalie Filip Gustavsson described. "We missed that guy, and he directed it into the goal. I don’t know what I could have done differently."

The win provided a double dose of revenge. One, for erasing terrible memories of the 2011 gold-medal game in Buffalo when the team blew a 3-0 lead in the third period. And two, for erasing more recent memories of a heart-breaking shootout loss to the United States last year in the finals. 

Seven players from 2017 won gold tonight: Carter Hart, Dillon Dube, Jake Bean, Kale Clague, Dante Fabbro, Michael McLeod, and Taylor Raddysh. As well, coach Dominique Ducharme was there last year, victorious tonight.

"The longer the game went, the more our speed was working and the better we were playing," Ducharme said. "Tyler had a little bit of jump tonight, so I used him more. It worked out pretty well."

"Coming into this tournament, there was a job that needed to be finished," said winning goalie Carter Hart, who was named player of the game for Canada. "Approaching this game today, we approached it with the right mindset. We wanted to make the most of our opportunity."

Canada won despite going 0-for-6 on the power play, which had been its forte all tournament. But the Swedes clearly did their homework before the game and not only neutralized the potent power play but scored short-handed as well.

"We didn't focus too much on not scoring on the power play," defenceman Cale Makar said. "I think the main thing is we got the win. Obviously, it would have been nice to capitalize on some of those chances, and we gave up a short-handed one, but in the end it didn't matter." 

"I think everybody just trusted each other," Makar continued. "We knew that even if the power play wasn’t clicking, we could still capitalize five-on-five. I guess that’s how we did it tonight."

On the other side of the ledger, Canada did not incur a penalty for the last 51 minutes of the game. In all, Sweden had 22 PIMs to Canada's 2 (10 of the former going to Oskar Steen for a last-minute misconduct).

For Sweden, the disappointment is bitter. It hadn't won gold since 2012 and finished runner-up in the bronze-medal game for the last three years.

"There’s disappointment as a group that we lost the game," said Timothy Liljegren. "But I’m really proud of all the guys. There were a lot of guys who played with injuries. We gave 100 per cent. We don’t regret anything. It’s all about honour and pride. We just wanted to go out there and play 100 per cent and show all the fans watching in Sweden that we’re a good hockey team."

Lias Andersson, upset by the loss, threw his silver medal in the stands. "I didn’t want it," he said. "The guy in the stands wanted it more than me, so I gave it to him."

The first period proved that you don’t need goals for exciting hockey; you need only skilled players moving freely up and down the ice.

The Swedes didn’t get the start they wanted, though. Without doubt, the first thing on coach Tomas Monten’s checklist of what not to do was to not take penalties. Canada had converted on nearly 60 per cent of all power plays through the first six games, and this was an aspect of the game that might well have decided gold.

That being said, just 3:46 after the opening faceoff, Gustav Lindstrom took an interference penalty. Although Canada had a couple of good chances, Gustavsson stood tall and the danger was averted.

A little later, the Swedes got a power play of their own, to no great effect. The Swedes had more shots in the first—16-9—but Canada had as many decent scoring chances. Both goalies were steady and letter perfect.

Not so in the second. Canada opened the scoring just 1:49 into the period on a couple of great plays by Jordan Kyrou and Dillon Dube. Kyrou brought the puck up ice and slid a nice pass straight ahead to Dube, who was covered by Timothy Liljegren.

Dube managed to fight off the check, control the puck, and then snap a shot over the glove of a surprised Gustavsson, thrilling the massive Canadian crowd of 17,544.

That got both teams going, but the Swedes in particular stepped it up a notch. Defenceman Rasmus Dahlin made several fine rushes, creating some good scoring chances, but Hart was rock solid and square to the shooter on every puck that went his way.

But when Canada went to the power play later in the period, Sweden struck back. Canada's Robert Thomas pinched at the Sweden blue line and Linus Lindstrom and Tim Soderlund bolted up ice on a two-on-two. They criss-crossed inside the Canadian blue line, and Soderlund wired a high shot short side off the post and in at 13:07 to tie the game.

It was Sweden’s third short-handed goal in its last three periods of hockey. 

As the third period progressed, shifts got shorter and players more cautious, but there were still moments of offense in what felt like an overtime period. Sweden won a faceoff in the Canadian end, and defenceman Jesper Sellgren ripped a shot off the post behind Hart.

"Any time you're in a game of this magnitude and the score is so close, you get a little cautious. But both teams were pressing a bit as well. We didn't want to go to overtime," Makar said.

A short time later, Boris Katchouk snapped a shot off Gustavsson's shoulder that would have gone in but for the fine save.

Canada came perilously close to winning in regulation on its last power play when Taylor Raddysh tipped a shot off the post, but the puck stayed out, setting the stage for Steenbergen's heroics.

Alex Formenton salted the win with an empty netter 36 seconds later.

"Everyone was just going nuts," said Thomas. "There’s not really words to describe it. We were all just so happy for each other. We fought hard and we had a helluva game. It was something special that I’ll remember forever."

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