LILLEHAMMER – The United States are 2016 Youth Olympic men’s ice hockey gold medallists. Team USA defeated Canada 5-2 to earn the country’s first-ever medal in this event.
Down 3-1 in the third period and frustrated offensively by the Americans, a late goal breathed new life into Canada, which cut the lead to one after Allan McShane found the top of the net on a shot from the high slot area.
But the late comeback wasn’t to be. DeRidder made a great point-blank save on Luka Burzan with 1:13 left to preserve his team's slim lead. Then following a Canadian timeout the States got two empty net goals to seal the gold medal victory. Videos:Game highlightsCelebration and post-game interviews
“It’s unbelievable, I can’t describe that feeling when the clock runs out,” said forward Tyler Weiss. “Best feeling in the world.”
The United States made its way to the final on the strength of an offence that produced 21 goals in five games and the play of DeRidder, who has been rock solid in net for the Americans posting three wins, zero losses, and two shutouts along with a 0.67 GAA and a 96.30 save percentage.
With seven minutes left in the opening frame the Americans struck first. Jack Deboer intercepted a zone clearing attempt by the Canadian defence and found TJ Walsh wide open with a pass for the easy goal and the 1-0 lead.
The Americans played fast and loose through the first two periods, getting on the puck faster than their North American rivals and shutting down Canada’s forwards.
If there was a fault to be found in Canada’s game in the tournament it would be discipline. Penalties put the Canadians behind in their semi-final game against Finland, and early in the second period with Jett Woo in the box for interference the Canadian penalty kill caught flat footed as Jacob Pivonka found Jack Deboer in front for the 2-0 U.S. lead.
“They capitalized on their chances,“ said Canadian forward Ryan Merkley. “I thought we had a great third period but they outlasted us and ended up winning the game.”
“Second straight game where we were down at the start because of penalties, but we came back hard and tried our best.”
The game opened up a bit for Canada following the second goal. First Carson Focht appeared to get his team on the scoreboard midway through the period, however the goal was disallowed due to a referee decision.
But then on a Canadian power play Focht served up Ryan Merkley at the point, who blasted a low hard shot through to the back of the net to cut Team USA’s lead to one.
But the Americans were always there with an answer whenever Canada started to get hot, and struck back with 3:35 left on the clock. A great forechecking effort from Pivonka forced another Canadian turnover, and Christian Krygier was able to get the puck at the left circle, walk in and shoot it into the far side of the net putting the States back up by two.
Canada made a switch in net for the final frame, going from Alexis Gravel to Olivier Rodrigue. But the switch couldn’t spark the comeback, as the States did not give up the lead through to the final whistle.
The win puts a golden finish for a Team USA campaign that faced success and adversity throughout the tournament.
“We all met at the gate in Newark airport, I remember looking around and not knowing anybody,” said DeRidder. “I thought ‘we actually have to go to a tournament with everybody that we don’t know?’,”
“There’s really no better feeling, just speechless,” said USA forward Jack Deboer. “A great group of guys and no one I’d rather win with.”
Team chemistry was evident early on, but took a few hits along the way, especially after the Americans lost one of their best forwards to injury when Oliver Wahlstrom was taken out with a head injury.
“I think he’s cleared for tomorrow, which was kind of a bummer for us today,” said Deboer. “But ever since he got injured our MO was ‘Play for Ollie’.”
The players were also thankful for the entire Youth Olympic experience as well.
“It’s crazy everything they’ve done for us: the Learn and Share program, the Athlete’s Village, the cafeteria always having food for us, it’s amazing and made me feel like a pro. When I get home it’ll be back to reality, it’s definitely going to be different but it’s honestly amazing what they set up for us.”
Back to reality for sure for these 15 and 16-year-olds:
“We have to fly out pretty early, then I have school,” said Samuelsson with a grin.