The U.S. earned the bronze medal with a 5-2 win over Canada, and Jack Hughes earned his place in history on Sunday. With a goal and two assists, the American captain broke Alexander Ovechkin’s career points record (31). Hughes finishes his two-year U18 career with 32 points.
"It's just a really special group," Hughes said of his team. "It sucks we didn't end up with gold. I still think we're the best team in this tournament. I think a lot of other people think that. To come out here, it's kind of a gut check. That kind of shows our character, shows how good we are. To come out here and beat the Canadians like that, it was a lot of fun to win our last game like that."
Barring an offensive explosion in the Sweden-Russia gold medal game, the shifty Hughes has also won the U18 scoring title for the second consecutive year. He racked up 20 points here in Ornskoldsvik, just one shy of Nikita Kucherov's single-tournament record (21 in 2011), after getting 12 in Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk. Apart from winning the championship, Hughes did all he could to assert his status as a generational talent.
Of passing Ovechkin, Hughes said: "This is a pretty cool tournament, pretty cool event. I'm lucky to be able to participate in it twice. It's been two pretty good runs. It's really cool to be on top of that ranking."
Asked whether he would represent his country again at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia with his brother Quinn, a defenceman, Hughes said: "I have no clue right now. I don't know. We'll see what happens. I've got to collect my thoughts in the next couple of days. There's been some discussions, but my goal and USA Hockey's goal was for me to focus on this tournament, try to bring some hardware home, and then we'll refocus on something else."
Versus Canada, Cam York notched two goals and an assist, and Bobby Brink and Alex Turcotte scored for the Americans, who bounced back after falling 3-2 to Russia in their semi-final shootout. Their power play clicked four times this afternoon at Fjallraven Center.
In 2016, the last time these archrivals met for bronze, the U.S. thrashed Canada 10-3 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was the most lopsided score in U18 bronze history. This wasn't that bad, but America still left no doubt who was in control.
Of coaching this last U18 game for the NTDP 2001-born group, coach John Wroblewski said: "I'm trying to hold the emotions together. What happened at this tournament, it's a slight blemish, but it's not going to define this group. I can't wait to see what they all do in the future."
Dylan Cozens and Nathan Legare replied for Canada, which last won gold in 2013 and last medalled in 2015 (bronze).
"I think we ran into the same thing as yesterday with a little penalty trouble," said Canadian captain Peyton Krebs. "The guys put in a great effort. I couldn't say enough good things about them. We're a good character group."
The U.S. gave goalie Spencer Knight his third straight playoff start and sixth of this tournament. Canadian backup Nolan Maier suited up in lieu of Taylor Gauthier, who appeared in the 4-3 semi-final loss to host Sweden. Final shots favoured the U.S. 41-23.
Even though the Americans, who train and play together all year long with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, didn’t win the gold, they succeeded in extended their record-setting medal streak to 16 years, dating back to 2004.
"It's bigger than just our team," said Hughes. "It's the face of USA Hockey. We knew it was important to come home with a medal."
It quickly became apparent that the Americans had come to play – especially the likely #1 overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft. When Hughes wasn’t dancing around and dishing the puck, he was getting physical, throwing a high hit on Krebs. Even when the Canadians established offensive zone pressure, they had a hard time getting shots due to the tight U.S. coverage.
Turcotte opened the scoring on the first U.S. power play at 8:03. Hughes found him with a lovely diagonal cross-ice pass and he banged it into the open side.
Canada knotted the score with a power play goal with 54 seconds left in the first period. Kozens tallied from the high slot on a beautiful set-up from behind the net from Newhook. The Canadians were a little fortunate to escape the first 20 minutes even Steven after being outshot 17-8.
Hughes put the U.S. up 2-1 at 6:54 on a spectacular give-and-go rush with York. Hughes sent a cross-ice, behind-the-back pass – worthy of the Harlem Globetrotters – to the top-scoring U.S. defenceman and then converted the return feed. It was a stylish way to tie Ovechkin’s points record.
At 12:59, Brink made it 3-1 with the man advantage, faking a slapper before whipping a stick-side wrister past Maier from the right faceoff circle.
As Canada’s frustration and penalty problems mounted, Hughes broke Ovi’s all-time mark with a nice feed to York for a one-timer from the right faceoff circle during a two-man advantage at 15:18.
"I had no doubt in my mind he would be able to do it," Knight said. "Just the way he moves the puck and his skating and vision, it's on another level. I've never seen anything like it before. So it's really cool."
In the third period, Caufield got several nice looks. He was stopped on an early one-timer set up by Hughes, and again halfway through the period on a slap shot coming down right wing. However, the top gunner in NTDP history was unable to turn on the red light.
Caufield tied Ovechkin's single-tournament goals record (14) versus Russia, and finishes his U18 World Championship career as the all-time U.S. leader in U18 goals (18).
"Obviously you can't do it without your team behind you," Caufield said. "I think our whole team contributed and played well the entire tournament. I can't thank them enough, especially Jack. He's a great player. I loved playing with him and I know he's going to do great things."
With 5:34 remaining, York stretched the U.S. lead to 5-1 with a power play one-timer set up by a sneaky Trevor Zegras behind-the-back pass. Legare got one more for Canada with just six seconds left.
Kim Martin, the legendary Swedish women's national team goalie who captured a 2006 Olympic silver medal, handed out the Player of the Game awards before the bronze medal presentation.