Gold Medal Game
Sweden – United States 1-3 (0-1, 0-2, 1-0)
MINSK – USA successfully defended its title at the World U18 Championship with a 3-1 win against Sweden. The gold is the American’s fifth at the U18 level and brings their total medal haul to eight at the annual event. Sweden’s silver medal matched its best finish at U18s, which it earned once, in 1999.
Today’s win avenged the only U.S. loss of this year’s tournament, a 4-2 defeat in the preliminary round. Since 2002, the Americans have missed the podium at U18s only once, in 2003 when they took fourth place.
The game was played in the 15,000-seat Minsk Arena. It was the only game of the event that was played at the newly-opened, state-of-the art building and more than 10,000 fans came for the final.
The Americans came out fired up in the first period and quickly took the 1-0 lead when Luke Moffatt scored a clean shot from the slot 2:10 into action. The Americans pressured the Swedish net after the goal, but Johan Gustafsson stood his ground and weathered the storm.
The momentum took a massive turn when Austin Watson was given a five minute penalty and game misconduct for a brutal hit on Sweden’s Herni Snall. Snall had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher, likely with a concussion. The U.S. was forced to buckle down and change to defense mode, and ultimately killed the lengthy penalty while getting nearly as many shots as the Swedes during the man advantage.
Midway through the second period, the Americans extended their lead to 2-0. Justin Faulk flipped in the puck after Nick Shore fed him a pass as he streaked in front of the goal. The Americans continued to pressure the Swedish net and climbed ahead 3-0, just 14 seconds into a power-play late in the second. Rocco Grimaldi scored on the rebound, putting the U.S. in pole position heading into the break.
Sweden found renewed life in the third period when Ludvig Rensfeldt put in a shot from the face-off circle to make it a 3-1 affair 6:54 into the third frame. But despite having their best play of the game after the goal, the comeback went no further as the U.S. hung on for the 3-1 win.
For two U.S. players, the gold medal was their third in a row at an IIHF event. Jason Zucker and Jack Campbell were on the gold medal-winning teams at the 2009 U18s, the 2010 U20s and now this year’s U18s.
Bronze Medal Game
Finland – Russia 5-1 (0-0, 1-0, 4-1)
MINSK – Finland took its second consecutive bronze medal at the World U18 Championship after topping Russia, 5-1, in today’s bronze medal game. Teemu Pulkkinen scored a hat trick, to bring his goal total to ten goals at the event.
The Finns were definitely pleased with their third-place finish, especially considering the obstacles they had to overcome at this year’s event. Top goaltender Sami Aittokallio going down with an injury before the first game and a few players had flu symptoms for today’s bronze medal game. It is Finland’s sixth medal at the U18s and their third bronze medal finish.
Finland and Russia met in the preliminary round, which Finland won 5-4 and for much of the game it looked like today’s game would be similarly close until the Finns erupted with four, third-period goals.
Pulkkinen has been Finland’s go-to man the entire tournament, so it seemed only fitting that he broke a 35-minute scoreless deadlock to give Finland the 1-0 lead. Pulkkinen streaked down the ice and fired in a shot from the slot that beat Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski high.
Before the goal, the teams were playing tentatively, trading penalties but not taking advantage of the extra man opportunities.
Finland opened up a seemingly huge 2-0 lead when Mikael Granlund, Finland’s other top player, scored 2:33 into the third period on the first power-play chance of the period. He was assisted by his younger brother Markus. After the 2-0 goal, the floodgates opened, with the Finns putting in another three markers compared with Russia's lone, late-game tally in the 5-1 win.
Just like in their semi-final loss, Russia's frustration shone through in a late-game melee, which resulted in 127 penalty minutes.
Goaltender: Jack Campbell (USA)
Defenseman: Adam Larsson (SWE)
Forward: Teemu Pulkkinen (FIN)
Media All-Star Team
Goaltender: Jack Campbell (USA)
Defensemen: Adam Clendening (USA); Adam Larsson (SWE)
Forwards: Johan Larsson (SWE); Evgeni Kuznetsov (RUS); Teemu Pulkkinen (FIN)
MVP: Jack Campbell (USA)
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)