Akil saw it coming
by Andrew Podnieks|06 JAN 2020
Canada's golden goal scorer Akil Thomas (left) and Quinton Byfield (right) pose with the trophy following the 4-3 gold medal game win against Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
While everyone watching the gold-medal game between Canada and Russia was thinking overtime once Canada rallied in dramatic fashion to tie the game 3-3 – after being down two goals – little-used forward Akil Thomas, the hero, wasn’t so sure. Despite playing only 3:58 over the first 40 minutes, and a scant 85 seconds in the third period, Thomas scored an incredible, gold-medal-winning goal with less than four minutes remaining.
“I wouldn’t say that I was surprised [that I got a shift so late in the game] because I had a weird feeling that [coach Hunter] Dale was going to call me,” he said after the game in an exclusive interview with IIHF.com. “I don’t know why. I looked up and saw the clock said 5:45. Something just touched me. I’m not sure why. Then Dale put us out there. I wasn’t playing a ton, but I wasn’t surprised. I thought it would happen, and it did, and I ended up scoring and thought, wow, that really happened. It was meant to be. After the game, Dale told me he had a hunch that I was going to score. Some things are just meant to be. I think the hockey gods are real and they were with us today. Everything happens for a reason.”
Indeed, it was a strange time under regular circumstances for Thomas to have been on the ice. He had played so little in the first two periods and only one shift in the third before that final, fateful shift. With the score 3-1 for Russia midway through the period and coach Dale Hunter needing goals, there was little reason to use Thomas, who hadn’t scored all tournament. 
But Fate doesn’t judge. Hunter acted on his hunch, and a few minutes later Canada was gold medal champions.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a while, growing with this tournament, playing hockey all my life,” Thomas continued. “I couldn’t score that goal, couldn’t help my team win the gold medal, without those who’ve supported me.”
“I was there a couple of years ago when [Tyler] Steenburgen scored the golden goal, and I told my friends, I’m going to score that goal one day,” he related. “We were joking around, but I kind of meant it. I want to attract positive energy around me. It’s just crazy how life works sometimes.”
The goal was spectacular. He chipped the puck past a defenceman and then chased it down. It looked like Russian goalie Amir Miftakhov would get to it first, but he froze, stayed well back in his net, and Thomas was determined in a meant-to-be kind of way. The rest is history.
“I saw my defenceman get the puck, and I saw he was going to put it up the wall and McMichael kind of chipped it, and it found an opening. The puck was almost going to the goalie. I kind of panicked and brought it to my backhand and put it in. I couldn’t describe how I felt after. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted the game to be over, but obviously there were still a few minutes left. We took a penalty. We were freaking out on the bench. We were excited. We were nervous. Luckily we got the job done and had a 5-on-3 the last 37 seconds or so.”
Interview Akil Thomas (CAN)
Here speaks the goal scorer of the gold-winning goal: Akil Thomas shares the biggest moment of his career.
CAN 05 JAN 2020
Thomas and his teammates were among the very few who remained positive when Maxim Sorkin put Russia ahead 3-1 at 8:46 of the third. By that point, 11:14 remaining in a low-scoring game, it looked to be over. Russian gold. 
Not so fast, Thomas said.
“I don’t think anyone panicked, not when we were down a goal or down later when they scored again. We always believed we would come back. It’s an amazing feeling playing with these guys. We’re brothers forever. I just had a feeling we were going to score. I didn’t think for a minute we were going to lose. I think it was good they embarrassed us in the round robin, and they were chirping us after the game as we were going back to the dressing room. I felt good about that. It helped us respond big today. The hockey gods are real.”
The goal is over. The gold medals are around Canadian necks. And Thomas’s goal is now on the list of great goals in Canadian hockey history. 
“My phone is blowing up,” he finished. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m just excited to get home, spend some time with my friends, my family, my teammates.”