Lucas Raymond completed his hat trick in overtime as host Sweden won its first gold medal ever on Sunday, defeating Russia 4-3 in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship final.
"I just saw it went in and it was pure happiness," said Raymond. "It's huge. But the most important thing is the win. To do it here, it's amazing, and the hat trick wouldn't mean anything if we didn't get the win."
With the Swedes moving the puck beautifully in the Russian zone, Raymond took a cross-ice pass from Alex Brannstam, moved into the middle, and unleashed a glove-side wrister from above the hash marks that beat Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov at 5:44. Ecstatically, Raymond ripped off his helmet as his teammates mobbed him by the glass.
Linemate Alexander Holtz raved about the winner: "It's not like a rebound or something. He takes the puck, dangles a guy, and then shoots it into the net. It's amazing!"
It’s the first Swedish IIHF title at home since Ornskoldsvik’s own Daniel and Henrik Sedin led Tre Kronor to end the 27-year World Championship “home ice curse” in Stockholm in 2013. This is also just the second time a U18 host team has triumphed, 10 years after the U.S. did it in North Dakota.
These kids weren't even born when the U18 World Championship debuted in 1999. But the wait was worth it for Three Crowns supporters.
The fifth all-European U18 World Championship final was a classic. Russia rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit to lead 3-2 before head coach Magnus Havelid's boys tied it up and sent it to overtime.
"I think Havelid is fantastic," Holtz said of the 47-year-old, who served as an assistant to Torgny Bendelin with the 2018 bronze-medal team. "He leads the group very well. He plays the right players at the right time and with the right players. So he's a really good coach."
In regulation time, Simon Holmstrom also added a single for Sweden. Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin and team scoring leader Rodion Amirov had a goal and an assist apiece. Maxim Groshev scored, and defenceman Marat Khusnutdinov contributed two helpers.
Sweden's Hugo Alnefelt shone in his goaltending duel with Askarov. The Russians outshot Sweden 38-30.
Russia still achieved a major success with its fourth silver medal in tournament history (2000, 2002, 2009). The Russians have won gold three times (2001, 2004, 2007) and bronze three times (2003, 2011, 2017).
"Step by step, we played more and more in a better way," said Russian head coach Vladimir Filatov. "There are some old Russian sayings that we are preparing for a long time, but then we drive fast. You can say that it was like this for us during this tournament. I would agree that the players improved a lot in the playoffs."
It took a spectacular solo effort by Raymond to open the scoring and ignite the Fjallraven Center crowd of 5,602 at 9:30. Blitzing down left wing, he turned Russian defenceman Alexander Kirpichnikov inside out like some hybrid of 1980’s Edmonton Oilers star Glenn Anderson and a young Alexander Ovechkin. The 2002-born Frolunda Gothenburg forward zinged the puck high past Askarov’s stick side.
Sweden jumped into a 2-0 lead at 5:53 of the second period. Unassisted, Holmstrom showed extraordinary patience as he picked up a loose puck in the Russian zone, cruised into the left faceoff circle and went high from a bad angle.
Max Wahlgren, the lone Modo Hockey skater, seemed a trifle nervous, picking up both of his team’s minor penalties so far. But overall, the Swedes played with poise that belied their youth.
"We just had to take positive energy from the group and try to do our best every shift," Holtz explained.
At 11:48, Podkolzin whooped it up after he got the puck from Amirov, cut to the net and beat Alnefelt with a power move. The officials initially waved the goal off and signalled for a goalie interference penalty. However, after a brief review, the call was reversed and the score was 2-1 Sweden.
"He's the captain of this team," Filatov said of Podkolzin, who was goalless through the semi-finals. "You can ask him: I was telling him during the whole tournament, 'You're going to score in the finals.' And he did."
With a delayed penalty coming up to Russia after Holmstrom was tripped up on a partial break, Philip Broberg came breathtakingly close to the third Swedish goal when he rang one off Askarov’s right post.
The Russians came out like hungry bears on the taiga to start the third period, tying it up just 20 seconds in. Podkolzin zoomed into the right faceoff circle, surrounded by Swedish defenders, and when the puck drifted off his stick, Amirov was there to backhand it through Alnefelt's legs for his team-leading sixth goal.
At 10:22, Groshev put Russia up 3-2 with a stellar individual effort. Picking up a Nikita Vashenko pass in the neutral zone, he split the Swedish defence and snapped one past Alnefelt's blocker in close.
"It was a lot of ups and downs," Raymond admitted.
Sweden struck back just 25 seconds later, and again Raymond supplied the thrills. He came down on the rush and slammed home Swedish captain Tobias Bjornfot's centering pass.
The Smakronorna ran into penalty trouble in the last 10 minutes of regulation with a too many men on the ice minor, followed by Broberg getting nabbed for interference in his own zone.
On that second man advantage, Podkolzin thought he had the go-ahead goal with 3:34 left when he stormed the goal in search of a rebound that Alnefelt struggled to cover up. He raised his arms in jubilation. The play was subjected to a lengthy video review, and the Swedish fans exploded with relief when it was waved off.
"When we saw the replay, we kind of understood that it wouldn't be a goal, because you couldn't see the puck crossing the line," Raymond said.
With 2:24 left, Alnefelt absolutely robbed Dmitri Sheshin from the slot with a glove save to preserve the tie prior to Raymond's sudden-death heroics.
"I think this is sick for Sweden, the whole country, to win this for the first time ever," said Holtz. "It's an amazing feeling to be a part of that."
The Swedes played without injured star defenceman Victor Soderstrom, who last suited up in the 3-0 round-robin win over Russia.
In the big picture, it's possible that this year’s bronze medal game featured bigger future NHL stars, such as the U.S.’s Jack Hughes and Cole Caufield. Only time will tell. However, the glory of gold is certain and real, and when you win a prize like this, it means more than just landing your next contract.
Just ask Sweden's overjoyed U18 players and fans.