SASKATOON – The USA is all that stands between Canada and its bid for a record-setting sixth straight gold medal. On John Carlson's third-period goal, the Americans beat Sweden 5-2 in Sunday's late World Junior semi-final to move on to the championship tilt.
Sweden – USA 2-5 (0-1, 2-1, 0-3)
Carlson made it 3-2 with 7:26 left when he powered a drive from the point that squeezed between Swedish goalie Jacob Markström's pads. The 19-year-old defenceman, who played three games with the Washington Capitals this season, pumped his fist exuberantly when he realized it was in.
Sweden, which won silver the last two years, will take on Switzerland for the bronze medal in Tuesday's early game.
Jerry D'Amigo added a pair of goals for the Americans, and Tyler Johnson and A.J. Jenks also scored. Anton Lander replied with two goals for Sweden.
"They scored too easily on us," said Swedish coach Pär Mårts. "I don't know who to blame but myself."
The Americans are pumped about getting a rematch with Canada, which came back to earn a wild 5-4 shootout victory over them at Credit Union Centre on New Year's Eve.
"That's going to be a fun game," said D'Amigo. "I've been looking forward to it. The championship game is going to be a battle. We'll play hard-nosed, try to get the puck deep, try to bury some early, and get on top."
It will be the third time the U.S. has faced Canada in the gold medal game. Canada won 2-0 in 1997 in Switzerland, and the Americans prevailed 4-3 in Finland in 2004 on Canadian netminder Marc-André Fleury's infamous own-goal. The latter marked the only gold the Americans have ever won at the World Juniors.
"They play a great game and have experienced and skilled guys," said the USA's Jason Zucker. "Nobody really expects us to win because Canada has won five times in a row, but we’re going out there to give our best and hopefully win the gold medal."
The win also means the Americans will end a medal drought dating back to 2007's bronze, which they gained versus Sweden.
In goal, the USA's Mike Lee outduelled Markström as the Americans outshot Sweden 34-29.
"I can’t find words to describe how disappointed I am," said Sweden's Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson. "I thought we played as we should. We had the puck, but we didn’t execute well."
It took just 1:24 for the U.S. to grab the lead, with the Swedes looking tentative. The Americans forced a turnover on the forecheck and Tyler Johnson beat Markström stick side from the slot.
While the Americans generated a handful of quality opportunities during the rest of the period, the Swedes were mostly mired in perimeter play, putting little pressure on the U.S. net.
Early in the second period, the Swedes started to generate more offensive zone heat, but couldn't capitalize on their chances. That is, until Anton Lander picked up a rebound from Anton Rodin's shot and deposited it past a sprawling Lee at 4:17.
The Americans carried the play briefly as Tre Kronor took back-to-back minors. But at 12:17, the Swedes jumped into a 2-1 lead when the Lander-Rodin connection clicked again, Lander firing a rebound past Lee's right pad.
Tempers flared as the Swedes got more aggressive and tried to crash the front of the net, as well as protecting their own goalie from American incursions.
The Americans got the 2-2 equalizer with 4:54 left in the middle frame, as D'Amigo rocketed down left wing, cut in and faked a shot before whipping the puck past Markström.
Swedish captain Marcus Johansson was ejected from the game in the first minute of the third period for elbowing D'Amigo in the head in the neutral zone. Markström had to be sharp, making several nice pad saves, and stoning Chris Kreider in the slot. But the Americans didn't muster the urgency they needed to score during the five-minute power play.
Toward the midway mark of the third, the teams began trading chances at both ends.
When trailing 3-2, the Swedes pressed furiously during a delay-of-game penalty to Ryan Bourque, coming close when Tim Erixon's center point shot deflected off the post. But they committed a fatal error. David Rundblad got stripped of the puck at the offensive blue line by American captain Derek Stepan, who burst down the wing and fed a lovely pass across to D'Amigo, who made no mistake for the shorthanded tally on Markström's stick side with 4:28 left.
"The plays just came to me today," said D'Amigo. "Luckily, my teammates fed me the puck, and I found a way to put it in the back of the net."
A.J. Jenks sealed the victory, scoring an empty-netter with 54 seconds to play.
"We went to the third period tied 2-2, and we made some mistakes," said Lander. "They won by taking advantage of our mistakes. Not a good game for us."
Sweden's lone World Junior gold medal came in 1981, and that drought continues.
The last time Sweden beat the United States at this tournament, Bill Clinton was still in the White House and the upcoming Olympics were slated for Atlanta. It was a 3-0 decision on January 1, 1996. Since then, the Americans have posted seven regulation wins, two overtime wins, and a tie.
The only previous World Junior medal the Americans have gained on Canadian ice was a bronze in 1986 (Hamilton). They'll be in tough versus the five-time defending champs: this American team averages just 18.5 years in age, with seven 18-year-olds and two 17-year-olds.
"I can't really tell that we're a young group of guys," said Stepan. "I feel like we've matured so much since the start of this tournament, even."
Brian Burke, the GM of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team and the Toronto Maple Leafs, received a chorus of boos from the partisan crowd of 12,137 when he appeared on the Jumbotron, as he was present to support Canada's archrival.