Canada going for gold
by Andrew Podnieks|05 MAY 2021
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Canada overwhelmed Sweden again, this time 8-1, to advance to its first gold-medal game at the U18 since winning gold in 2013.

The offence was led by 15-year-old Connor Bedard, who had three goals for the winners. Bedard is now tied with Russia's Matvei Michkov for the tournament lead in points with 12. Captain Shane Wright contributed a goal and three assists.

Sweden will now face the loser of the other semi-finals tonight between Russia and Finland. Both medal games will be played Thursday night in Frisco.

Canada outshot the Swedes by a whopping 56-17 margin, and although the game was close for two periods, Canada pulled away with six unanswered goals in the third.

"Our focus was to play our game for 60 minutes," said winning coach Dave Barr. "For the most part, we did. We didn't have many great chances in the first couple of periods. They did a good job keeping us to the outside. When we got that third goal, they had to open up, and that gave us more opportunity."

That 2013 team starred 16-year-old Connor McDavid. The current edition features another Connor – 15-year-old Bedard – who has played with greater and greater effect and adjusted to life among 17- and 18-year-olds remarkably quickly.

"I don't think I was playing too great in the round robin," Bedard commented. "I was pretty tired those first four games, but my legs feel better now. I don't know why, but maybe I got a bit of confidence with some greasy goals last game and getting a few tonight is just big for confidence."

"We played pretty well defensively for two periods," said Sweden's coach Anders Eriksen. "They had a lot of shots, but not very dangerous. Our goalie was able to see the puck. We had a chance in the first period when it was 0-0, when we hit the post, and we had another very good chance in the second. If we had been ahead one or two goals, it would have been different. But that goal early in the third period was devastating for us. We lost our momentum."
It was clear from the moment the puck was dropped to begin play that Sweden wanted to make this a different game from the 12-1 loss during the preliminary round. Sweden clogged the middle of the ice and prevented Canada from gaining speed between the blue lines; goalie Carl Lindbom was steady and solid; and, neither team had many scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes.

Indeed, the best chance came midway through the period off a counter-attack by Sweden. Arvid Eljas skated down the right side and let go a shot from the faceoff circle that beat Gaudreau, but it hit the far post and stayed out.

Shots were 12-2 for Canada at that point, and although the Canadians had the majority of play and territory, they had few decent scoring chances. Their best might have been near the end of the period when Dylan Guenther set up Logan Stankoven, but he was in too close to Lindbom, who gave him no room to shoot.

Liam Dower Nilsson had a good chance later, but his hard shot was snared by Gaudreau’s glove.

Bedard opened the scoring early in the second period on a couple of quick plays. Skating in over the Sweden blue line, he attempted a pass, but it hit the stick of Eljas and came back to him. Bedard then carried in and wired a shot past the blocker of Lindbom at 3:50 to give Canada its sixth opening goal in as many games.

But less than a minute later, Guillaume Richard and Corson Ceulemans incurred minor penalties on the same play, and Canada was forced to play 3-on-5 for two minutes. Sweden wasted no time in taking advantage, tying the game just 28 seconds later. Isak Rosen snapped a one-timer to the short side before Gaudreau could get over, and for the first time in the tournament Canada was in a tie game after 0-0. That meant the chance to record the first “perfect gold” in U18 history was lost.

It also meant a 1-1 tie at the 5:00 mark of the second period. In the first game between these two teams, Canada was ahead 6-0 by this point.

Rosen was stopped soon after during the one-man advantage when he was slow to get his shot off, allowing Gaudreau to come over and get his body in the line of fire. It was a critical save at a critical time, and in retrospect might have been one that changed the complexion of the game.

Indeed, four minutes later, Canada took a 2-1 lead thanks to a determined shift from Chase Stillman. He hit the post with one shot, but a few seconds later got the puck with Lindbom in a vulnerable position. Stillman tried to stuff the puck in on the short side, and although the goalie got a piece of it the puck squirted out the other side where an unmarked Stillman got a second chance. He made no mistake at 9:51.

Showing his increased confidence, Bedard tried a lacrosse goal a bit later. He was successful right to the end, but when he came out front he whipped the puck across the crease area wide.

He made up for that miss with a sensational goal 45 seconds into the final period as Canada added six more goals. Skating into the Sweden end with Anton Olsson in front of him, Bedard used the defenceman as a screen and nailed a shot over Lindbom's shoulder. 

"I feel like in the second and third we really brought pressure to them," noted captain Shane Wright. "We got a lot of high-quality chances, so it was only a matter of time before one went in. ‘Bedsy’ scored that goal, and opened the floodgates for the boys."

Three minutes later, Canada made it 4-1 on a power play. Brennan Othmann got the puck to the side of the net and, with the stick between his legs, found the far side of the net.

They made it 5-1 seconds after another man advantage had expired midway through the period. After tremendous pressure, Francesco Pinelli finally converted with a long wrist shot, putting the game clearly out of reach.

Wright and Bedard, with his third, added goals to close out a game that started close and finished anything but.

"He's an elite hockey player at a young age and can play against 17-year-olds, and he knows how to score," Barr said of Bedard. "And one of the things that he's very good at is, he's not a high-risk player. He doesn't turn many pucks over. And he's got an elite shot."
Canada vs Sweden (SF) - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship