With the holiday season coming and going, it also means it’s the time for the IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships. Every year, it’s always the same story: How will Canada do? Every year, every Canadians’ angst relies on a group of teenagers and young adults. More often than not they fulfill that with a medal, as they did this year. However it’s not the medal that Canadians want.
Going into the tournament, there were several storylines. Whether it was the quality of players who wouldn’t be participating (Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine), the fact that team USA was continuing its tradition of not bringing in its best players by cutting Alex DeBrincat, or as always, the high expectations for Canada. It was very clear that we were in for an exciting tournament.
Once the tournament got underway, it was easy to see that parity would play a huge role in the next couple of weeks.
First, you had the sudden fall of Finland, one year after winning gold in their hometown. While the losses to the Czech Republic and Sweden weren’t shocking, it was their upset loss against team Denmark that really put Finland in a tough spot. They beat the Swiss on New Year’s Eve, but it wasn’t enough to save them from the relegation round. Even then, they barely snuck past Latvia, scoring late in the third to win the first game, and winning the second game 4-1. They survived, but Finland became the first team to win the World Juniors, and then follow it with a trip to the relegation round.
Speaking of Denmark, they were another surprise in the tournament, as they finished second in their pool this year with a 2-1-1 record. Their upset against the Fins played a huge part of that, as well as a win against the Czech Republic. However, their Cinderella run came to an abrupt end with a 4-0 loss to the Russians in the quarterfinals, ending an otherwise spectacular tournament for the Danes.
Finally, we saw what may have been the most exciting medal round in a long time. First, the Russians and Americans played a fast-paced game that saw overtime and a shootout before the state’s booked their ticket to the gold medal game, thanks to Troy Terry’s three for three performance. Shortly after, the Canadians beat the Swedes, winning 5-2 to advance to the gold medal games themselves, and set up a historic rivalry for gold, Canada vs USA.
First, the bronze medal game, which was a thriller itself. The Russians came out on top, 2-1 in overtime. This gave the Russians a medal for the seventh straight year, while the Swedes finished fourth for the third straight year.
Finally, the main event: Canada and the United States for gold. It was a very hectic, back-and-forth match, which saw the Canadians go up 2-0 and 4-2, and the States come back from those two goal deficits both times. The game went to overtime, and saw some frantic action ensue, but it wouldn’t decide anything, leading to a shootout. Both goalies were near perfect, with Connor Hart allowing just one to Troy Terry, but that would be all that America would need, as they would win gold.
With each tournament, we also see some spectacular performances from the players as well. Canada’s Thomas Chabot won the MVP, scoring four goals and 10 points in seven games, while Sweden’s Alex Nylander and Russia’s Kirill Kaprizov lead all players in scoring with 12 points, including Kaprizov scoring nine goals. In the goalie department, Russia’s Ilya Samsonov was tough to beat, with a .934 save percentage.
Another year, and another exciting tournament. While Canadian fans may feel disappointed, it was thrilling for hockey fans, and it was a sign that the tournament continues to shift towards being a lot more competitive than just the big five.
Graphic by Sai Gnanaharan