Champs start strong
by Andrew Podnieks|26 APR 2021
photo: Ryan McCullough / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sweden began defence of its 2019 U18 gold medal with a convincing 5-1 win over Belarus at the Children’s Health StarCenter arena in Plano, Texas this afternoon. 

With the win, the Swedes improve their all-time perfect record against Belarus at the U18 to 8-0. Both teams are right back at it tomorrow afternoon. Belarus faces Switzerland in the afternoon, while the Swedes play Canada in the night game.

"I thought we came out hard and had a good game for 60 minutes," said Swedish goalie Carl Lindbom. "We shut them down on the inside pretty well. It was a good game to get under our belt before tomorrow's game."

"They showed more skill when it mattered," admitted Belarus head coach Dmitri Shulga. "I think we had our fair share of scoring chances, but we didn't make good on them. Today, they were the better team."

The score would have been more one-sided but for the fabulous play of Belarus goalie Ivan Zhigalov, who played his best in the third when Sweden started to take full control. In all, he faced 44 shots, many from in close.

"We had our ups and downs, but we kept steady," Sweden forward Albert Sjoberg added. "Belarus is a good team and hard to play against. You need to be aware of them. They are fast and can be dangerous if you are not careful."

The Swedes used their superior speed and skill in the early going, moving the puck easily out of their end and creating good puck movement inside the Belarus blue line. This created the game’s first power play, and the Swedes converted. Isak Rosen let go a perfect one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle after a nice set-up from Anton Olsson, blowing the puck past Zhigalov at 5:00. 

By the midway point of the period, though, Belarus started to play with more confidence and generated some good opportunities of their own. The two best came from Danila Klimovich, who missed on a one-timer of his own in the slot. Soon after, he flew down the right wing, deked Victor Sjoholm out of his jock, and had another great chance. 

"They had great pressure when they got pucks deep," Lindbom noted. "We had a bit of a hard time to get the puck out and play simple."

Sweden weathered the storm and earned two late power plays to take the wind out of the Belarus sails.

Sweden went ahead 2-0 early in the second on a sensational rush by Fabian Lysell, the Lulea prospect who is considered a high first-round pick this summer by NHL scouts. As a Belarus power play expired, Lysell wound up in his own end, went coast to coast, and finished with a backhand over Zhigalov’s glove at 1:51. 

Not to be outdone, Klimovich had the best shift of the night a few minutes later. He created a turnover at his blue line and went in alone on Lindbom, trying a Hollywood shot between his legs that went high. He then roared back to take a scoring chance away from Sweden, and as he regained the puck he drew a tripping penalty. On the ensuing power play, his one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle found the net, giving Belarus its first goal of this U18 at 8:32.

The Swedes went ahead by two again, though, before the end of the period when Arvid Eljas beat Zhigalov on a two-on-two rush made possible by a nice pass from Sjoberg as the two criss-crossed inside the Belarus line.

Sweden took control in the third but Zhigalov stood tall. The fourth Sweden goal came at 18:22 on another nice solo effort, this by Ludwig Persson who drove down the left wing and cut in hard on goal before shoving the puck over the goal line. Victor Sjoholm added another at 19:09 on a long shot that eluded Zhigalov.
Belarus vs Sweden - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship