"It's an amazing feeling, winning a medal," said Swedish captain Liam Dower Nilsson. "It means a lot for the team and the country of Sweden."
This was a strong two-way effort by coach Anders Eriksen's team, which got goals from seven different players. The Swedes bounced back big-time after an 8-1 semi-final loss to Canada, which also hammered them 12-1 in the group stage.
"We have had a lot of fights against the Finns over the years," said Eriksen. "The difference between the teams isn't eight goals, but today it was. I think we came out with energy and scored on our chances, while they didn't. So that's why we got the momentum."
The Swedes, who failed to repeat as champions, earned some consolation by extending their U18 medals streak to three tournaments. This is Sweden’s fifth bronze medal of all time (2000, 2005, 2007, 2018).
Finland, which lost 6-5 to Russia in the semi-finals, goes home emptyhanded for the second straight tournament after coming seventh in 2019. There was no 2020 tournament due to the global pandemic.
Asked about what went wrong in the bronze medal game, Finland's Kalle Ervasti said: "Almost everything. Sweden was that much better."
Despite topping Group B, coach Petri Karjalainen's boys had an unfortunate habit of falling behind and having to come back in Texas. In fact, the Pikkuleijonat trailed in every game except their shutouts versus Germany (10-0) and Switzerland (2-0). Their never-say-die spirit finally wilted versus Sweden.
"The result is what it is, and it's taking the words out of my mouth," said Karjalainen. "I have to congratulate Team Sweden. They played better tonight. We were quite empty mentally and physically and just couldn't compete today."
Final shots favoured Sweden 36-35.
At 5:00, on the same man advantage, Sweden drew first blood. William Stromgren lured Finnish starter Aku Koskenvuo to the ice before finding Rosen with a deceptive cross-ice pass. The Leksands IF prospect's one-timer hit the wide-open net for the eventual winner.
Of taking the Salminen hit that led to the power play, Olsson said: "I hurt my back a little bit, but it's OK!"
Midway through the first period, the Finns ramped up the pressure with their first power play and beyond. “Pucks to the net” was their motto, but they had nothing to show for it.
Against the flow of play, Simon Robertsson made it 2-0. The Skelleftea winger picked up a loose puck from an broken-up Fabian Lysell rush in the left faceoff circle and squeezed one past Koskenvuo on the stick side with 0:37 left in the period.
To kick off the second period, the Swedes besieged Koskenvuo's cage. He lost and regained his goalie stick, only to have a puck squeak through him. Niko Huuhtanen dived behind Koskenvuo to clear the disc away, but top Swedish defenceman Simon Edvinsson fired it home for a three-goal lead at 3:31.
Two minutes later, an onrushing Albert Sjoberg took Ludwig Persson's drop pass and surprised Koskenvuo with a top-corner shot from the right faceoff circle. Down 4-0, Karjalainen yanked the 18-year-old Espoo-born netminder in favour of Juuso Helomaa, who had the shutout versus Germany in his lone start.
"It wasn't his fault," said Finland's Miko Matikka of Koskenvuo's exit. "It was our team's fault. I felt bad for him, and it's just bad luck for him."
In the third period, Oliver Moberg collected the rebound from Stromgren's nifty power-play rush and popped it through Helomaa for a 5-0 lead at 5:53. The play was briefly reviewed to check for an offside, but it was a non-issue.
Dower Nilsson enthused about Sweden's balanced attack: "It says a lot about this team. I mean, we have some some really skilled guys and many hard-working guys, too. And I think when they get goals, it's giving the team a lot of energy and power."
The Finns strove to spoil Lindbom's shutout on a power play with under 10 minutes left. Yet with Helomaa pulled in a Hail Mary attempt to get something going, Sweden's Noah Hasa added an empty-netter at 11:19.
At 14:55, Noah Ostlund notched his first goal to make it 7-0. With 37 seconds remaining, Rosen potted his team-leading seventh goal on a shorthanded breakway to round out the scoring at 8-0.
Surprisingly, this was the first U18 Worlds bronze medal game ever between the two classic Nordic rivals. But somehow that feels fitting. 2021 is a year of many firsts.
"It's been a strange year," said Eriksen. "The junior leagues in Sweden have been down since the end of October. So many of these guys haven't played regularly since then. It took us some games to gain confidence, and then we were able to show that we have good hockey players from Sweden."