Sweden going for gold again
by Lucas Aykroyd|29 APR 2023
Sweden rejoices after a first-period goal by David Edstrom (#15, right) in a 7-2 semi-final victory over Canada at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Otto Stenberg led the way with two goals and three assists as Sweden advanced to the U18 Worlds gold medal game with a 7-2 semi-final rout of Canada. Coach Anders Eriksen's defending champions will face the U.S. on Sunday in a rematch of the 2022 final.

"We need to play our game tomorrow," said Stenberg, the Swedish captain. "[The U.S. has] a really good first line. We have to just enjoy the moment and have fun."

Canada will take on Slovakia in the bronze medal game.

"I think everyone's kind of got a bitter taste in their mouth right now," said Canadian captain Cam Allen. "We want to go home on a winning note, and we can do that tomorrow."

The Swedes exploded for four second-period goals to crush Canada's hopes. Scrambling defensively, coach Jeff Truitt's boys couldn't bounce back, even though two Swedes were kicked out with five-minute majors.
Sweden has enjoyed great success at the U18 Worlds recently. The Smakronorna won their first-ever gold on home ice in Ornskoldsvik in 2019, beating Russia 4-3 in overtime on Lucas Raymond’s hat trick goal. Last year in Landshut, Germany, goalie Hugo Havelid dazzled with 47 saves in a 6-4 gold-medal win over the Americans.

No team has won back-to-back U18 Worlds gold medals since the U.S. (2014, 2015)

In this semi-final, Sweden's David Edstrom also stepped up with two goals and an assist, and Felix Unger Sorum racked up four assists. Canadian assistant captain Colby Barlow returned to action after a one-game absence due to injury.

Looking ahead to the final, Edstrom said: "I think we need to play with a little more discipline. We can't take these penalties. We need to stay on the ice 5-on-5 and then we will be able to take the gold tomorrow."

"I think we played very well and the guys in front of me did a very good job," added Swedish goalie Noah Erliden. "So I'm glad that we can play in the gold medal game."

Canada failed to take revenge after getting thrashed 8-0 by Sweden in the opener.

The Canadians capitalized on their first power play. Macklin Celebrini, who had four points in the 7-3 quarter-final win over Switzerland, scored his fourth goal of these U18 Worlds on a wicked one-timer from the faceoff circle at 4:31.

Defenceman Tom Willander tied it up on Sweden’s first man advantage at 6:59, surprising Canadian starting goalie Carson Bjarnason with a high wrister from just inside the blue line.

Angus MacDonnell restored Canada’s lead at 14:07. Cam Allen sent the puck to the net from the right point, and MacDonnell pivoted to forehand it past Erliden while being pushed to the ice.

Just 27 seconds later, Sweden made it 2-2 on a weird play. Bjarnason lost track of Axel Hurtig’s high point shot and the puck fell behind him in the crease. Edstrom whacked it in from the goalie’s left post.

"I just saw it lying there right in front of the goal," Edstrom said. "So it was just a matter of shooting it in the goal!"

Late in the first period, Bjarnason was shaken up when Swedish forward Noel Nordh jumped in front to provide a screen and his rear end slammed into the goalie’s head. Nordh got a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking to the head at 17:42.

"I thought it was a five-minute major, for sure," Truitt said. "Taking a look at it, it was just a real tough collision that way. Unfortunately, it knocked him out of the game."

Gabriel d'Aigle replaced Bjarnason in net to start the second period. The Canadians arguably deserved a better fate after outshooting Sweden 12-6 in the first, but couldn't cash in on their long man advantage.

Stenberg put his side up 3-2 at 3:57, snaring a loose puck in the slot and beating erd'Aigle high to the stick side.

"He's really important," Edstrom said of Stenberg. "He's playing well in these important games and showing how good he is."

Edstrom made it 4-2 at 12:47 when he curled around the net, eluded his check, and shifted to the forehand to fool d'Aigle.

Just 1:14 later, Anton Wahlberg gave Sweden a three-goal lead on the power play with a top-shelf laser from the slot. And Stenberg converted a slick cross-crease pass from Unger Sorum at 18:50.

Willander's five-minute major for slashing at the end of the second period didn't yield any Canadian power play goals in the final stanza. That was Canada's last real chance to stage a comeback.

"Their PK shut us down," Allen said. "I thought our work ethic was raised after the second period, going into the third. I don't think it comes down to our will. Everyone in there wanted to win just as badly as the next guy. But ultimately, we couldn't capitalize."

Pulling d'Aigle for an extra skater backfired as Canada got caught with too many men on the ice. Zeb Forsfjall's one-timer on the ensuing 5-on-4 made it 7-2 with 6:06 left.

Frustrations spilled over in a nasty scrum around the Swedish net with just over three minutes left. It was a penalty parade to the end.

About the possibility of Sweden winning consecutive golds, Edstrom said: "It would mean a lot. I think Sweden has a lot of growth in the junior hockey these last couple of last years. Now, tomorrow, it's our time to shine."

Canada last won the U18 Worlds in 2021 with an all-star squad featuring Connor Bedard, Shane Wright, and Mason McTavish. The Canadians own three other gold medals (2003, 2008, 2013), plus three bronze medals (2012, 2014, 2015).

With Saturday's result, Canada’s all-time U18 Worlds record versus Sweden falls to 11 wins and 10 losses.

Including bronze medals in 2018 and 2021, the Swedes will extend their U18 Worlds medal streak to five straight tournaments. They hope the colour of Sunday's medal matches their famous yellow jerseys.
Sweden vs Canada (SF) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship