In a day where champions were crowned at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, it was Canada who came up biggest and crowned some heroes of their own.
We begin with the relegation round as Germany staved off being demoted by defeating Kazakhstan 6-0 in the third and deciding game of their series. The Germans will remain in the tournament for 2021.
On to the bronze medal game where the Swedes edged their Scandinavian rivals 3-2.
Finland got on the board first when Patrik Puistola scored from Kim Nousiainen and Kristian Tanus. The goal came just 8:22 into the game.
But it was on the power play where the Swedes got back in to things. Nousiainen was called for holding at 10:51 of the first and, at 12:08, Sweden tied thigs up when Rasmus Sandin scored off helpers from Nils Lundkvist and Samuel Fagemo.
But before the first period was up, with exactly one minute to play, Matias Maccelli scored unassisted to give Finland back their lead, 2-1.
But the Swedes took control in the second when Fagemo scored at 10:34 from Nils Hoglander and Adam Ginning to tie things. Less than three minutes later, at 13:19, Linus Oberg was setup by Linus Nassen to score what would go down as the bronze medal clinching goal. It was now 3-2 Sweden and that is how it would remain.
The Finns pulled goalie Justus Annunen with just over one minute to go, at 18:53 but to no avail. The Swedes held on and won, leaving Finland out in the cold and taking home the bronze.
Swedish goalie Hugo Alnefelt made 32 saves on 34 Finnish shots while Annunen made 23 saves on 26 Swedish shots. Nikola Pasic finished with a shot on goal and an even plus/minus in 11:51 of ice time.
Now we move on to the main event, the gold medal game between Russia and Canada. The Canadians had history on their side, having won gold in this tournament in this rink (the Ostravar Arena) back in 1994.
And this one lived up to the hype.
Following a scoreless first period, where Ty Smith took a holding penalty at 15:04 and Kevin Bahl took a slashing penalty just as Smith’s penalty ended at 17:09, things began to pick up in the second period.
The Canadians’ Barrett Hayton took a holding the stick penalty 7:55 into the second putting Russia on the power play.
At 9:37, Nikita Alexandrov capitalized, scoring from Yegor Zamula and Grigori Denisenko give the Russians the 1-0 lead. Hayton – the Canadian captain – may have been in a tough spot here, but there were better things to come for him.
Almost immediately following the goal, the Russians got into some penalty trouble. At 10:39, Danil Zhuravlyov was called for slashing and Dmitri Voronkov was called for holding at the exact same time. Up two men, Canada’s Dylan Cozens tied things when he scored from Joe Veleno and Alexis Lafreniere.
But it only took Russia 4:45 to get that back. At 14:46, Denisenko scored from Alexander Romanov and Yegor Sokolov to get the Russians back the lead at 2-1.
The hole got deeper for the Canadians 8:46 into the third when Maxim Sorkin scored to make it 3-1 Russia. Ilya Kruglov had the lone assist.
At 9:20 of the third, Canada cut the Russian lead back to one, but not without some controversy. Connor McMichael scored from Calen Addison and Bowen Byram but the puck had deflected in off of a Canadian player’s skate. In the IIHF, any purposeful redirection off of a skate nullifies the goal. In the NHL, you can turn your skate blade a little to redirect it as long as it is not a distinct kicking motion.
Replay showed that the puck redirected in off of the player’s leg and there was no redirect with intent with the skate and it was deemed a good goal. It was now 3-2 Russia.
A few minutes after the McMichael goal, at 11:11, Russia’s Voronkov took a cross-checking penalty to put the Canadians back on the power play. And they wasted no time.
Ten seconds in to the man advantage, Hayton took a feed from Addison and put the puck in behind Russian goaltender Amir Miftakhov to tie the game up at three. Lafreniere had the other assist. For Hayton, this was a great moment. He had been injured and came back to score a major goal for the Canadians, tying the game at three.
Then, at 16:02, Akil Thomas scored one of the biggest goals of his life. He cut in on the Russian goalie with the Russian defenders on him and drove to the net, burying it to score what would go down as the gold medal-clinching goal. It was his first goal of the tournament and McMichael and Addison had the assists.
At 17:19, Bahl took a hooking penalty to put the Russians on the power play. Russia pulled Miftakhov for the 6-on-4 advantage, but that was negated when Pavel Dorofeyev took an interference penalty with just under 2:30 to go.
The Russians pulled Miftakhov again to make it 5-on-4. Then, with 1:45 to go, the Canadians cleared the puck and it hit TSN’s center ice camera that is out of play. The officials did not call delay of game, so the game remained at 4-on-4.
Miftakhov was pulled again, but Denisenko ended up playing the puck with his broken stick when Canada was about to get a scoring chance with the Russian net open. He was off for a penalty and that pretty much iced things for Canada.
The Canadians had secured their first World Junior gold medal on European soil since 2008.
Canadian goalie Joel Hofer made 35 saves on 38 Russian shots while Miftakhov stopped 26 of the 30 he saw. Ty Smith had two penalty minutes and was a minus-1 in 17:08 of time on ice. Bahl had four PIMs and was a minus-1 in 12:58 of ice time. For the Russians, Danil Misyul had a shot on goal and an even plus/minus in 14:58 of ice time.
So that puts a wrap on the 2020 World Junior Championship. Congratulations to Team Canada on taking home the gold and to all the players in the tournament. It was a good one. Next year, the tournament returns to North America in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta. Here’s looking to 2021!