The USA and Sweden won their respective semi-finals on Saturday and will face off in the final game of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Fanatec Arena in Landshut, Germany on Sunday starting at 18:30 local time (12:30 EDT).
Road to the final
In the semi-finals, the USA trailed Czechia 1-0 after one period but then scored six straight goals to win 6-1. Sweden had a much more difficult time with Finland later in the evening, needing a power-play goal from Jonathan Lekkerimaki with 32 seconds left in regulation time to win 2-1. That is a reflection of each team’s different path to the title game.
The Americans have simply overwhelmed every opponent they have faced so far over five games by a total score of 43-11. They started with an 8-3 win over Canada and have won every game by at least four goals.
The road has been a lot rockier for the Swedes, who started with a shocking 3-2 loss and followed that up with an underwhelming win over Switzerland that finished 6-2, but they had trailed 2-1 in the third period. Their only comfortable win has been 7-1 over Germany in the quarter-finals.
For what it’s worth, the two teams met in a pre-tournament game in Kaufbeuren which went to a shootout, with Sweden prevailing 3-2.
How they stack up
Despite scoring more than double the number of goals of any other team so far – Canada, Sweden and Czechia are all tied for second in goals for with 21 – the USA doesn’t especially dominate the list of top scorers in the tournament. That’s a reflection of the team’s biggest strength: it’s depth. All four lines are doing the scoring. Isaac Howard is the team’s top scorer with 10 points, followed by Logan Cooley with nine, and Cutter Gauthier, Frank Nazar and defenceman Lane Hutson with eight.
For Sweden, Lekkerimaki’s semi-final game-winning goal gives him 11 points, which ties Jiri Kulich of Czechia for the tournament lead. Defenceman Mattias Havelid has nine points and Noah Ostland has eight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the tournament’s top two teams in terms of defence and goaltending. Hugo Havelid – twin brother of defenceman Mattias – has played in four of Sweden’s five games and will almost certainly be the starter in the final, despite his heavy workload in the semi-finals last night in which he faced 42 shots, stopping 41. While Adam Nightingale has deployed his goalies a little more evenly, its more than likely he’ll go back to Kenneth Augustine, who has played three of five games so far.
One area where Sweden seems to have a decisive edge over the USA is in special teams. In the win over Germany, the Swedes scored five power-play goals. In the whole tournament, they have 11 on 24 chances for a tournament-leading 45.83 per cent. Interestingly, of all the goals they’ve scored, the Americans have only scored four power-play goals on 16 chances for 25 per cent, which ranks second-last in the tournament. By contrast, the Americans have the tournament’s top penalty-killing at 88.89 per cent, while Sweden is third at 75 per cent.
Jimmy Snuggerud, USA: “We had the early game today, so tonight we’ll get some really good rest coming into tomorrow. We’ll have a few good meals and we’ll be super pumped to play. Whoever we play, we’ll play as we always do.”
Adam Nightingale, USA coach: “We’ve been together two years but I’ve noticed that our guys are dialed in. I think every game we’ve been tested, although the score may not reflect that, but we’ve been tested in different ways. And we’ll do the same tomorrow.”
Hugo Havelid, Sweden: “I think we’re playing better every game, so we’re just going to keep trying to do that and have our best game tomorrow. We know they’re favoured to win it all but I think we like the role of underdog.”
Magnus Havelid, Swedish coach: “We all know they are the favourite because of that program they have where they play together for two years. That’s the challenge for my team. We played them before but I think both teams are going to be better tomorrow. We need to be really strong defensively but also continue to play and go for it.”
The USA and Sweden have met in the final of the U18 Worlds on three previous occasions. They came in three successive years – 2010, 2011 and 2012 – with the USA winning all three. The closest of the three games was 2011 in Crimmitschau, Germany, in which the Americans rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to tie it, and then won on a golden goal by defenceman Connor Murphy.
The USA has been the most successful team in U18 World Championship history, winning 10 gold medals, four silvers and three bronzes. This will be their 18th medal in 23 tournaments. This will be the 12th U18 medal for Sweden, who have previously won gold once, and silver and bronze five times each.
Sweden has been slightly better in recent history, however. The most recent gold medal for the USA came in 2017 in Slovakia. That was also the most recent time Sweden failed to earn a medal, finishing fourth. Since then, the Swedes have won a medal of each colour, including gold on home ice in 2019 in Ornskoldsvik with a 4-3 win over Russia. The hero was Lucas Raymond, who completed his hat trick with the overtime winner.
Last year in Frisco, Texas, the two teams met in the quarter-finals, with Sweden winning 5-2. The Americans have seven returning players from that game and the Swedes have four.