And then there were two.
The United States and Canada, two hockey superpowers that have combined for some of the most exciting and memorable games in World Juniors history, will go head to head one more time on Thursday in the gold medal game of the 2017 World Junior Championship.
Both teams secured exhilarating victories in Wednesday’s semifinal action, with the United States edging Russia and Canada defeating Sweden. All four teams were the top contenders coming into the tournament and they did not disappoint today, creating two intense games spread across one incredible day of hockey.
Here’s how it all went down.
United States 4, Russia 3 (SO)
Troy Terry: it’s a name that’s going to live for a long, long time in American hockey lore.
Much like Jonathan Toews famously did for Canada back in the 2007 World Juniors, Terry played the role of the hero in the shootout, scoring three separate times, including the decisive winner, as the U.S. defeated Russia 4-3 in a white-knuckle thriller for the ages.
Both teams traded goals throughout a tightly-contested regulation but were still tied 3-3 after 60 minutes. Overtime was a back-and-forth affair with both teams exchanging quality chances, but goaltenders Tyler Parsons and Ilya Samsonov could not be beat.
It was then that Terry took over. He scored on his first shot in the shootout’s opening five rounds, and with the score between the two teams still tied after that, was then called upon twice more, as per IIHF rules that allow repeat shooters in the sudden death rounds. Team USA head coach Bob Motzko clearly had a hunch about who to send out there and Terry certainly proved him right, finding the back of the net both times.
All three of Anaheim Ducks prospect Troy Terry's shootout goals today. Definition of cutch. pic.twitter.com/MSYCPlFgx8— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 4, 2017
Parsons, a Calgary Flames prospect, finished with 33 saves. Ottawa Senators 1st rounder Colin White had two goals, while Boston Bruins 1st rounder Charlie McAvoy logged a game-high 31:55 on the back end.
"I've never been a part of something like this," said U.S. forward Clayton Keller. "It's crazy. It's unbelievable to get the win and go for the gold medal tomorrow.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Russians, who put forth a valiant effort and came within inches of winning the game on multiple occasions. The loss brought about the end of a five-game World Juniors winning streak that they held against the U.S.
Dallas Stars 2015 1st round draft choice Denis Gurianov was phenomenal in the game for his home nation, scoring two goals in regulation and then two more in the shootout, nearly matching Terry’s heroics.
Minnesota Wild prospect and Russian captain Kirill Kaprizov had a fantastic World Juniors, scoring eight goals and three assists in six games. He still holds the tournament lead in goals.
"Obviously it’s super-tough," said Russian defenseman Mikhail Sergyachov. "We wanted to win that game. We did everything we could to win. We lost in the shootout. I just want to say thanks to the boys for a great effort."
Canada 5, Sweden 2
Canadian head coach Dominique Ducharme made news headlines on Tuesday when he publicly questioned whether or not Sweden could handle what the Canadian team planned to throw out at them in Wednesday’s semifinal matchup.
Turns out, he was right.
Sweden soared through the preliminary round with a perfect record and a lopsided goal differential, but they weren’t fully prepared for a motivated Canadian team that had already fought through their fair share of adversity, primarily in the form of a 3-1 loss to the United States on New Year’s Eve. Canada was fast, physical and aggressive all game long, constantly pressuring the flummoxed Swedes, and it paid off with an impressive 5-2 victory.
"We played Canadian hockey tonight," said Ducharme. "We used our speed to take away their space and time, and we played a physical game."
The game actually started ideally for Sweden, scoring two goals on their first three shots of the game and chasing Canada’s starting goalie in Connor Ingram, but the Canadians roared back, tying the game late in the first period and then taking control of the play in the other two. Canada would finish the evening with a 43-31 shot advantage.
Julien Gauthier had two goals, while Dylan Strome and Anthony Cirelli each had a goal and an assist, but it was a complete team victory for Canada. All four forward lines were generating scores chances, while all three defensive pairings did an excellent job of stymieing most of Sweden’s offense and consistently transitioning the puck up ice.
Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli snipes to tie it for Canada. His mom jumps for joy. pic.twitter.com/GkhmRlLwfd— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 5, 2017
The biggest story for Canada, however, was the play of goaltender Carter Hart.
Hart entered the game just 8:05 into the first period in relief of Ingram and, aside from a couple of bobbled saves with his glove hand, was exactly what his team needed in net. He stopped all 28 shots that he faced, giving his country the kind of steadying goaltending performance that they had been desperately searching for all tournament
For Sweden, the country must now face the same questions that have been plaguing them in recent years. They have a staggering 40-game winning streak in the round robin games of the World Juniors, but have just one gold medal in that span to show for their efforts.
"We had a great start," said Swedish head coach Tomas Monten, "but we had several chances for a third goal and didn't get it. Our speed and skill weren't good enough to get away from their forecheck."
Minnesota Wild 1st rounder Joel Eriksson Ek and Toronto Maple Leafs 2nd rounder Carl Grundstrom had their goals against Canada, while Philadelphia Flyers prospect Felix Sandstrom more than held up his end of the bargain in net, making 38 saves. The dynamic Alexander Nylander, who still leads the tournament in scoring, picked up an assist, but was watched closely by the Canadian defense and rendered less effective than he had been in previous games.
Unreal assist from Alex Nylander on Team Sweden's go-ahead goal. Pure skill. pic.twitter.com/IEbzmfmO2E— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 5, 2017
While it’s a small consolation, Sweden still has the chance to head home with a bronze medal if they can beat Russia on Thursday afternoon, a game that they will be the favorites in.
What’s Up Next
Thursday will be the final days of the 2017 World Juniors, with both the bronze and gold medal games taking place.
- Russia versus Sweden at 2:30 PM
- United States versus Canada at 7:00 PM