BUFFALO – The United States have, for the first time ever, won back-to-back medals in the IIHF World U20 Championship after defeating Sweden 4-2 in an entertaining, although not very physical, bronze medal game.
The Americans extended their medal count to two gold medals, one silver and four bronzes in the World U20 Championship after winning gold last year.
“I’m proud of the way our guys came out and played for a win,” U.S. head coach Keith Allain said. “We all take pride in playing for our countries, not only the Americans, but all players and teams in this tournament.”
Swedish forward Oscar Lindberg opened the scoring in the middle period, but a determined American squad turned the game with two goals from Kreider and another excellent performance from goalkeeper Jack Campbell, who made 34 saves.
The U.S. outshot Sweden 44-36.
“The coaches did a great job preparing us for the game. Everyone was focused, and we had a full team effort today,” Campbell said. “We felt really good after two periods. Sweden is a good team, but we knew we could win.”
The Americans remain a headache for the Swedish “Juniorkronor.” The last time the yellow-and-whites defeated the United States in the U20 category was in the 1996 World U20 Championship – a 3-0 quarterfinal win on American ice in Amherst.
“The USA were playing really well today and forced us away,” Sweden coach Roger Rönnberg said. “Our players really wanted to win, but they ran out of gas in the end.”
Although bronze medal games are not known for their drama, Team USA showed more enthusiasm in the first period and the clear ambition to say goodbye to HSBC Arena on a positive note.
The U.S. outshot Sweden 13-5 in the first period and Swedish netminder Fredrik Petersson Wentzel, who got his third start in this tournament, had to solve several delicate situations in front of his net.
The Americans had several quality chances, such as two shots from Kyle Palmieri after five and a half minutes, or when Jason Zucker had an empty net after 12 minutes but missed Charlie Coyle’s pass, to name but a few chances.
However, all this was forgotten when Sweden came out from the dressing room with more determination for the second period. The first minutes of the period were played mainly on the side of American goalie Jack Campbell and Sweden eventually opened the scoring at 11:58.
Carl Klingberg fired a long shot from the right side and Campbell blocked this shot, and Oscar Lindberg’s first rebound attempt from the other side, but Lindberg tried it again from the goal line, scoring with a shot that went in via Campbell.
The Americans reacted and were awarded a power play soon after the goal – and they capitalized on it 70 seconds later. Chris Brown carried the puck behind the net and passed to Kreider, who beat Petersson Wentzel on the far side.
In the third period, the Americans started well when Drew Shore scored the go-ahead goal after just 52 seconds. He deflected Justin Faulk’s shot through traffic from the blue line.
The game remained open with opportunities on both sides including Brian Dumoulin hitting the outside of the post at 5:21. Nick Bjugstad made it a two-goal lead for Team USA at 11:40, redirecting a Nick Leddy pass into the net while standing with his back towards the Swedish crease.
Two and a half minutes later Jesper Fasth cut the lead scoring on his own rebound, but Kreider made it 4-2 with 1:53 left in regulation time.
“Our mission was to win today. Any medal in a tournament like this is an accomplishment and something to be proud of. That’s two years in a row,” USA forward Ryan Bourque said. “We’re disappointed with losing to Canada, but we owed it to ourselves and our country to play well today.”
“It’s not the game we wanted to play today, but we played very well. We wanted to make this game mean something since it was the last we would play together as a group,” said forward Drew Shore, one of 13 1991-born players on this year’s bronze-medal winning team.
While the Americans confirmed their positive trend, the Swedes had their worst finish since 2007 when they finished in fourth place on home ice in Leksand followed by two silver medals and last year’s bronze.