Team Canada will play Team USA for gold at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship.
Frederic Gauthier’s second period goal stood up as the game winner in a 5-2 victory over Sweden. Gauthier took a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent a little flip shot toward the short side of the net that appeared well covered by Swedish goaltender, Felix Sandstrom and the puck found its way through.
A great deal of talk going into the game was about Canada’s play and lack of goals 5 on 5 so far in the tournament. That scenario wasn’t as important on Thursday night as 4 on 4 turned out to be.
Team Canada scored twice 4 on 4, in two very key situations. Anthony Cirelli’s goal late in the first period tied the game and Dylan Strome’s goal in the third period gave Canada a whole lot of cushion and they held on to the end.
Visiting teams often have the mantra of “surviving the first ten minutes” of a game. Sweden may have earned last change against Canada as the “home team”, but they were the ones doing the surviving in front of the Montreal crowd for much of the night as Team Canada came out hard and fast and kept that pace going even through some adversity early on.
The game’s first power play went to the Canada and did produce the game’s first goal. The only issue from a Canadian perspective was that it came short-handed off the stick of Joel Eriksson Ek, who had put up five points in nine games in the NHL earlier this year playing for the Minnesota Wild.
That didn’t weaken the tide Canada had been riding one bit as they got back into the Swedish zone and mucked their way to a Mitchell Stephens tying goal as the Peterborough native swept home a deflected pass from the edge of the crease to the back of the net to even the score at 1-1, 7:43 into the opening period.
That lead didn’t hold long as Carl Grundstrom put the puck past Connor Ingram for a second goal on the first three Swedish shots, putting them back into the lead and showing off a leash fit for a Yorkie in the hands of Team Canada head coach, Dominique Ducharme. He pulled Ingram in favour of 18-year old Carter Hart.
Hart shut the door from there. He got his welcome to the game on a Swedish power play and was facing another man advantage late in the first when an ill-advised penalty took the power play away from Sweden and Cirelli tied the game.
Canada created early chances in the second period that were turned aside by Sandstrom. For all of the great work he did in the Swedish net, Gauthier’s goal was far from the shiniest gem. Still, it gave Canada their first lead and they grew it from there.
Fans of Team Canada may have winced early as Canadian captain, Dylan Strome hurried down the cut-way toward the dressing room. There were exhalations all around when he was quickly followed by Canada’s equipment manager, Bryan Boyes.
Strome was there to help close out the scoring as he set up Gauthier for an empty-netter.
Hart ended the game with 28 consecutive saves for Canada.
The United States defeated Team Canada 3-1 on New Year’s Eve.
The puck drops on the gold medal game at 8 o’clock on Thursday night in Montreal.