Garland, a 25-year-old winger from the Arizona Coyotes, tied Canada's Connor Brown for the tournament points lead (13) prior to the gold medal game. Jason Robertson and Christian Wolanin added a goal and an assist apiece. Trevor Moore, Jack Drury, and Ryan Donato also scored, while Tage Thompson recorded three assists.
"It just proves how much character guys they really are," said U.S. head coach Jack Capuano. "It was disappointing the other night to lose [to Canada], but we played a great team again here today. You saw the penalty-killing, the special teams today, that’s just who we are. Whatever it takes, the sacrifices, the brotherhood we talked about, coming together in this tournament and growing together as a group."
The U.S. succeeded in winning its fourth bronze medal in the last eight World Championships (2013, 2015, 2018). The only two losses for coach Jack Capuano's team in Riga were to the 2021 finalists. The U.S. fell 2-1 to Finland in its opener and 4-2 to Canada in the semi-finals.
"It was tough, but it was worth it," said 36-year-old captain Brian Boyle, who represented his country for the first time at these Worlds. "Being a part of this team is going to be one of my fondest memories of playing. I’m really thankful that they let me come on and I’m really proud to be part of that group."
German coach Toni Soderholm mixed things up in net by starting Felix Bruckmann over Matthias Niederberger, who carried the load at this tournament. Bruckmann’s two previous Riga appearances were in the 2-0 group-stage loss to the Americans and the opening 9-4 romp over Italy. Unfortunately, his teammates weren't able to generate enough goals on Sunday.
"We’re all incredibly sad," said German captain Moritz Muller. "In the dressing room, no eye stayed dry. We would have deserved it. We felt that our team was very special. The fans watching on TV felt how unique this group is. We’re thankful we could have experienced this and sad we have not been rewarded."
For the U.S., starter Cal Petersen returned the day after taking the loss versus Canada in the semi-final. Shots favoured Germany 34-30.
Petersen hailed the leadership of Justin Abdelkader, who was limited to six games as captain due to a lower-body injury, and Boyle, who wore the "C" the rest of the way. Neither veteran played in the NHL this season, although Abdelkader enjoyed a championship run with Switzerland's Zug, and helped out Capuano on the bench after being sidelined.
"These are two guys that have already proven a lot in their own careers," Petersen said. "And they made the choice to come over here and leave their families and sit in a bubble with 20 other young kids that maybe didn't fully realize or have the kind of experience that they did. For them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and put everything into this tournament, showing us what it means to be a leader and a winner, I think, is awesome."
It was a rough conclusion for the Germans. Although they struggled to score goals as these Worlds progressed, they showcased their character and skill in key wins over Canada (3-1) and Latvia (2-1). They shocked Switzerland with a 3-2 quarter-final shootout win, and delivered a gritty effort in two losses to defending champion Finland (both 2-1), including the semi-finals.
"It’s been an experience for my lifetime," said Soderholm. "Ever since we came together for camp and landed here, we felt that something is possible. We had good character here and it was an honour to work with them."
Under Soderholm, the Germans have improved from sixth place in 2019 to fourth place this year.
Germany’s last IIHF World Championship medal was silver, back in 1953. The Germans stunned the hockey world at the 2018 Olympics in Korea by capturing the silver medal with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
However, the Americans killed the power play off without any dangerous German chances. Seconds later, Wolanin stole the puck from Matthias Plachta at the U.S. blue line, busted down left wing, and cut in past Moritz Seider to slide a backhand past Bruckmann at 5:02. It was a good omen for a U.S. team that hasn't lost in Riga after scoring first.
This was the first Worlds goal in 16 games for Wolanin, who also played in 2019. The 26-year-old defenceman is the son of former NHLer Craig Wolanin. Craig Wolanin, a 1996 Stanley Cup champion with Colorado, represented the U.S. at three Worlds in the 1990’s, including captaining the 1994 team in Italy.
In the second period, Garland converted the rebound from a Robertson blast to make it 2-0 at 6:07.
At 8:05, Sasha Chmelevski set up Drury on an odd-man break and he made no mistake, lofting a backhander in tight past Bruckmann.
"I thought we went after their D, which is a big strength," Capuano said. "We had good sticks, we skated, we had legs, and we competed."
Things just weren't going Germany's way. On a mid-game power play, Dominik Kahun, who joined the national team after his Edmonton Oilers were eliminated by the Winnipeg Jets, hit a goal post and was stymied by Petersen on another excellent chance.
"At the end of the day, we just weren’t as sharp as we’d been the last few games," said Germany's Marcel Noebels. "It wasn’t really huge mistakes that we made, but small mistakes, and on this level we all know what happens if you make them."
German penalty problems resulted in two quick American power play goals. Robertson put the game out of reach at 11:35 with a rising glove-side wrister from the right faceoff circle.
With Moritz Muller sprawled on the ice in pain from multiple shot blocks, Moore cashed in a rebound for a 5-0 lead just 40 seconds later. Muller, the German captain, was injured and left the game.
Chmelevski took a five-minute major and game misconduct for a high hit on defenceman Fabio Wagner and assistant captain Colin Blackwell tripped up Kahun in the neutral zone, giving the Germans an extended 5-on-3. Yet Petersen battled and dazzled with his reflexes, including a great stop on Leonhard Pfoderl on the doorstep.
In the third period, Dominik Bittner gave Germany the consolation of spoiling Petersen's shutout at 9:28. But Donato went to the net for a tap-in to restore the five-goal U.S. edge just 25 seconds later.
More rough stuff ensued down the stretch, but nothing was going to stop USA Hockey from celebrating its eighth Worlds bronze medal of all time.
"I've never seen a team come together like we did, especially in a short amount of time," Abdelkader said. "It was kind of a 'next man up' mentality. Guys chipping in all over the place, it was just really fun to watch, fun to be a part of. I'm so happy that we got rewarded with with the bronze medal. Obviously, we'd like to get the gold. But you know, things happen."
Both nations leave these Worlds with well-founded hopes of contending for medals again at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland (Tampere and Helsinki). Before that tournament, though, it will be fascinating to see which players use Riga as a springboard to gain an unexpected roster spot at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
"What is for sure is that we need players who work 1,000 per cent for the team and don’t just have individual skills," said Soderholm "We need a situation where 1+1 players are more than two players."