STOCKHOLM – Somewhere Andy Roach is smiling. Team USA earned its first bronze medal since 2004 with a 3-2 shootout win over Finland at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. John Gibson once again played well beyond his years in the medal winning game.
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The USA last won bronze at the 2004 World Championship against Slovakia. In that game, the Americans won on a shootout. It is the 17th World Championship medal for the United States in its participating history in this tournament. It is their sixth bronze.
"It feels great. This is my fourth time playing for Team USA, and I hadn’t gotten a medal [until now]," said T.J. Oshie. "Obviously we wanted it to be gold, but that’s not going to take any excitement away from winning this."
First period goals by Craig Smith, Paul Stastny and a game winning shootout goal by Alex Galchenyuk ensured the Americans would not leave Stockholm empty-handed.
The game started very different for the Americans today than last night’s semi-final match-up. They came out strong and took the play to Finland. Finnish goalie Antti Raanta was tested very early as the Americans used their opportunities to draw first blood.
Craig Smith scored when David Moss jumped to knock the puck down to the ice and Stastny picked up the loose puck and passed it to Smith for a backhand goal 58 seconds into the game. For Smith, it was his fourth goal of the tournament, all scored against the Finns.
"It’s tough. They wanted it, we wanted it," said Ossi Väänänen. "We had a bad start, and there’s no excuse for that. We tried to be ready. It’s a challenge, though, for a game like this. But the USA was ready for the first period."
The Americans playing with a sense of urgency made it hard for the Finns to unleash Petri Kontiola, Juhamatti Aaltonen and Janne Pesonen. The trio had combined for 14 goals and 34 points in the tournament coming into this game.
Stastny widened the lead at 15:58 with a one-timer in the slot off a little shovel pass from Smith. For Stastny it was his team leading seventh of the World Championship, this one coming on the power play. Jacob Trouba picked up an assist.
The Finns picked up the pace in the second period getting some quality chances on net. At 8:07 a point shot from Janne Jalasvaara was saved with Jarno Koskiranta on the doorstep. At 6:50 they continued to focus the action in the USA zone, around the net. With about two minutes remaining in the period, Kontiola send a shot through traffic that Gibson stopped.
Finland would work its way back when Lauri Korpikoski scored. The puck was heading out of the American zone when Väänänen met it at the blueline and sent a shot/pass that Korpikoski redirected to a wide open net. The goal came at 8:56. Kontiola picked up the secondary assist.
This awoke the Finnish fans in attendance as momentum shifted decidedly to Finland. Then at 9:38 Aaltonen finally got his best chance on the day. He broke through the defence and bore in on Gibson who somehow saved the puck and squeezed it between his pads.
Despite back-to-back games in less than 24 hours, the Americans looked fresh with a skated with an extra stride in their step to start but as the game wore on, especially the third period, they looked tired and the Finns elevated their attack.
Finland came all the way back when Mikael Granlund made a nifty deke move through an American defender to put the puck in front where Korpikoski scored his second of the period and the game.
Finland sustained the action in their opponents’ zone and forced overtime.
Teams traded chances through the overtime with the USA’s best chances coming early and Finland’s coming later. The 21-year-old Granlund was active throughout the third period and overtime making things happen and creating chances. A turnover by Team USA led to an opportunity just before the buzzer sounded for Kontiola.
"I think we took the game over in the second and third," said Väänänen. "We played much better and scored two goals to even it up. After OT was scoreless, then we had the shootout. It’s like flipping a coin at that point."
In the shootout, Janne Pesonen scored for Finland, which was matched on the last American shot by Galchenyuk. A big save by Gibson on Korpikoski brought it sudden death. A miss by Granlund set the stage for Galchenyuk who potted his second, this one securing the bronze for Team USA.
Despite being one game from the final, the tournament should still be considered a positive one for Team USA. They exceeded expectations with the run they’ve had; trounced a major rival and saw enough individual efforts from players including Smith, Stastny and Gibson to build on for the future. Matt Carle summed it up best:
"We're a young team and we have a few guys who don't have any pro experience coming into this. We got better as the tournament went along and got into a good position in our group. This is a good consolation."