It took until the late stages of Saturday’s gold-medal game, but Canada finally faced adversity at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
After blowing a two-goal lead to the Finns, Kent Johnson came to the rescue. At 3:20 of overtime, Johnson tucked home the rebound from his own shot to give Canada a 3-2 win and the gold medal.
Coming into the third, Canada held a 2-0 lead, but the Finns roared back to tie the game in front of 13,327 fans at Rogers Place. After being credited with just 13 shots over the first two periods, the Finns launched 17 shots on net in the third, and got goals from Aleksi Heimosalmi and Joakim Kemell to send the game to overtime.
The Canadians had plenty of chances to bury the Finns, but went 0-for-6 on the power play in regulation.
Canada also got goals from Joshua Roy and William Dufour. With two assists in the game, Mason McTavish finished as the tournament’s top scorer, with eight goals and nine assists. He was named tournament MVP.
But McTavish’s finest moment might not have been a goal or assist, but clearing what looked to be a tournament-winning effort from Topi Niemela off the goal line just seconds before Johnson notched the deciding goal.
From the group stage to the elimination round, Canada’s smallest margin of victory was three. But the gold-medal game against Finland marked a new type of challenge for the Canadians, as the opposition went into a defensive shell right from the opening faceoff.
The Finns clogged up the middle of the ice and broke up the flow of the game. When Canada established control of the puck in the Finnish end, four of the five Finnish skaters collapsed to the front of their own goal, acting as a blockade for goalie Juha Jatkola. From above, it looked as if the Finns were playing with just one forward and four defencemen.
But Canada broke the Finnish blockade at 11:18 of the first. McTavish came out from behind the Finnish goal, his shot was stopped by Jatkola, but the rebound fell to Joshua Roy, who made no mistake.
At 12:05, Finland’s Kalle Vaisanen finally recorded his team’s first shot on goal.
Canada didn’t allow the Finns the chance to slow them down in the second. Just 41 seconds into the period, a Dufour wrist shot beat Jatkola.
Canadian forward Kent Johnson had a chance to put his team up by three near the halfway mark of the period, but Jatkola denied him on the breakaway chance.
Maybe the Finns lack of output — just 13 shots — in the first two periods, lulled Canada to sleep. They came out with more offensive resolve in the final period and halved the Canadian lead at 4:09. Heimosalmi’s point shot floated through traffic and over the shoulder of Canadian goalie Dylan Garand.
At 10:46, the Finns got the tying goal, with Kemell one-timing home a perfect pass from Topi Niemela.
Canada outshot the Finns 33-31.
Where does this Canadian performance rank in world junior history? Before the final, The closest anyone came to even making the Canadians sweat in this tournament was Switzerland, who got to within 5-3 of the Canadians in the quarterfinals, a game the Canadians would go on to win by a 6-3 count.
Canada won its four Group A games by an aggregate score of 27-7.
But, In 2005, Canada’s most powerful junior team ever — featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Seabrook and Corey Perry — went 4-0-0 in the group stage, scoring 32 goals and giving up just five. The Canadians beat the Czechs 3-1 in the semifinal and triumphed 6-1 over Russia in the final.
While the world juniors has been plagued by poor attendance, the gold-medal game featured the largest and most animated crowd of the event. For the only time in the tournament, seats were opened to fans in the upper bowl of Rogers Place.
SWEDEN NETS BRONZE
Isak Rosen scored the game-winner for Sweden in a 3-1 victory over Czechia to take the bronze medal at the world junior men’s hockey championship earlier on Saturday.
After Sweden’s Fabian Lysell scored at 14:22 in the first period, Michael Gut pulled Czechia even with a power-play goal at 13:30 of the second.
But Rosen restored Sweden’s lead less than two minutes later and Linus Sojodin added an insurance goal with four minutes remaining in the game.
Bronze wasn’t the medal colour Rosen and his teammates wanted, but the Buffalo Sabres prospect was happy with his team’s performance Saturday.
“You strive to win the last game,” Rosen said. “Of course we wanted the gold, but better bronze than nothing.”
Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt stopped 27 shots for the win. Czechia, formerly the Czech Republic, had 20 saves from Tomas Suchanek.
Sweden finished third in the tournament for the second time in three years after the same result in 2020 in Czechia.
The Czechs’ last medal was bronze in 2005.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press