World junior hockey: Canada defeats Sweden 3-1 to win gold after shootout heartbreak last year
Canada players celebrate forward Tyler Steenbergen's goal against Sweden during the third period of the gold-medal game at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday, January 5, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
They saved the best for last.
Best crowd. Best game. And, for Tyler Steenbergen and Team Canada, the best finish.
Canada, which had lost 5-4 in an overtime shootout to the U.S. in last year’s world junior championship final, redeemed itself in a 3-1 win against Sweden in Friday night’s gold-medal game.
It was Canada’s second gold medal in four years and the fourth straight time that the Canadians had defeated Sweden in the final.
This one was no different. But it didn’t mean it was easy.
After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals in the second period before Steenbergen, who was the only Canadian forward without a goal in the tournament, redirected a slap pass from Conor Timmins for the game-winner with 1:40 remaining in the third period. Alex Formenton made it 3-1 with an empty-net goal shortly after.
For most of the two weeks, the tournament has struggled to fill even half of KeyBank Center, blaming poor weather, high-ticket prices and oversaturation of an even that was jointly held in Toronto and Montreal in 2015 and 2017 for a lack of interest. On Friday, the fans finally showed up and they were treated to easily the most compelling game of the world juniors.
For Canada’s seven returning players, it was redemption after last year’s bitter loss to the U.S. But for the rest of the team, it was a just reward for a tournament where Canada was the most dominant of the 10 teams.
And yet, this will likely not go down as one of the better Canadian teams.
Canada, a team of second-liners that led the tournament in overall scoring, did not have a single player on the team who was drafted in the top-3 and were also without a single draft-eligible prospect. What the Canadians lacked in star talent, they more than made up for in a blue-collar work ethic that spread itself throughout the line-up.
Everyone, from captain Dillon Dube, who scored Canada’s first goal of the night, to fourth-line forward Alex Formenton to 13th forward Tyler Steenbergen contributed.
In some ways, it was a microcosm of this year’s world juniors. Throughout the tournament, there were a lot of very good performances, but no real greatness. No one took over. No one really brought you of your seats.
Still, the tournament got it right at times. The outdoor game, which the U.S. won in an overtime shootout, was a blast. And in the end, the two best teams met in what was once again a memorable final.
The Swedes, who had five first-rounders in the line-up — not including projected No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin — were one not only matched Canada in terms of speed and skill, but had gone a perfect 6-0 in the tournament.
While Sweden had defeated Russia in the preliminary round and needed to beat the United States in the semi-final to get here. Canada had a much easier path to the final, winning its last three games by scores of 8-0, 7-2 and 8-2 in what looked like pre-tournament exhibitions.
Against Sweden, Canada faced its toughest opponent of the tournament. And, early on, it showed.
Dahlin, a 17-year-old who carried the puck up the ice with the confidence of Erik Karlsson, was a handful all game. Most of the Swedes were, as Canada was outshot 16-9 in the first period and struggled at times to generate much in the way of offence.
Neither team scored in the first period, though the chances were certainly there for either team. If not for goalie Carter Hart, had been at times bored in net in the previous three games but came up with 35 saves in the gold-medal game, this one could have gone different.
Instead, it was Canada who nearly went ahead when Dube fished a puck free from Sweden goalie Filip Gustavsson and slid it into the net. The only problem was the whistle had already blown and the would-be goal was quickly waved off.
After a scoreless first period, Sweden paired Rasmus Dahlin and Timothy Liljegren — their two offensive defencemen — together to start the second in hopes of finding that first goal. But it came at a significant cost, as Jordan Kyrou split the defence with a pass to Dillon Dube, who fought off a check and found the top corner to give Canada a 1-0 lead.
The Canadians could have easily added to that lead when Kyrou drew a holding penalty a few minutes later. Instead, a Swedish penalty kill that had scored two shorthanded goals on the same power play against the U.S. in the semi-final scored yet again to make it 1-1.
The Swedes got into penalty trouble in the third period, putting Canada on consecutive power plays. But the Canadians couldn’t capitalize. Taylor Raddysh had the best opportunity, which he put a shot off the post. But it wasn’t until Steenbergen — the highest scorer of any Canadian player heading into the tournament — finally scored the unlikely winner that Team Canada struck gold.
Like everything else, it was better late than never.