Canada barely hangs on for semi-final win
by Chris JUREWICZ|04 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
You can call this one an instant classic.

Canada jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead and led 5-1 in the second but had to defend a one-goal lead late in the game as the Swedes never went away. Canada held on for a 5-4 win and a berth in the gold medal game at the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championship.

"We talked in that room. We wanted to have a great start to that game and we did; we had four goals in the first 10 minutes or so," said Canadian captain Porter Martone. "And then we kind of got off our game. (On Sunday in the final) we have to flip that and just stay consistent the whole 60 minutes and that’s what will win the game."
The Canada-Sweden game showcased the speed, skill and drive of both teams and what makes this tournament one of the very best on the hockey calendar each year. Sweden outshot Canada 35-26 but couldn’t beat Canada’s goaltender Carter George to tie the game. George was superb in net and was the difference.

Canada led 5-2 after two periods but third-period goals by Sweden’s Victor Eklund and Hugo Orrsten caused some tense moments on the Canadian bench and kept the result in doubt until the end.

Canada’s win sets up a gold medal final against the United States, the first time since 2013 that the arch-rivals will meet in the U18 final.

Canada got its first Grade A chance of the game just 26 seconds in when, following a Swedish turnover, Ryder Ritchie was alone in front and got a great shot off on Love Harenstam but the goaltender turned it away.

Less than two minutes later, defender Spencer Gill made a nice pass from the blueline to Liam Greentree, who scored from what seemed an impossible angle – think Leon Draisaitl’s office to the left of the goaltender almost near the goal line. A referee review followed as, earlier on in the play, Kashawn Aitcheson delivered a thunderous hit on a Swedish player and the refs looked to see if it was head contact. No penalty was called and the goal made it 1-0 Canada.

Gavin McKenna scored to make it 2-0 at 7:09 when Matthew Schaefer made a perfect stretch pass to Porter Martone at the Sweden blueline, who one-touched the puck to a streaking McKenna. The Wizard from Whitehorse then sped into the offensive zone and made a Connor McDavid-like move through defenders Gabriel Eliasson and Viggo Gustafsson before burning Harenstam.

McKenna’s first-period goal was his 16th point of this tournament, which sets a new Canadian mark for most points at a single U18s. Macklin Celebrini (2023) and Tyson Jost (2015) had 15 points at their respective U18s.

Schaefer got his second assist of the game at 8:10 when he executed a give-and-go with Ritchie and then finished with a backhand flip pass to Tij Iginla, whose hard wrist shot went over the arm of Harenstam.

Although George wasn’t busy in the first, he was forced to make some key saves, his best coming with 2:38 left in the opening frame when Viggo Gustafsson found open ice at the top of the right faceoff circle and fired a shot that George swallowed up.

Moments later, Ritchie made it 4-0 when he finished a Canadian tic-tac-toe play, with Iginla and Frankie Marelli helping set up the goal. Canada outshot Sweden 12-6 in the period.

Sweden found some life at 3:53 of the second. After Marrelli tripped and turned the puck over in his own end, Linus Eriksson grabbed it and made a cross-seam pass to Viggo Nordlund, who one-timed the puck past George.

Henry Mews restored Canada’s four-goal lead at 7:07. The ridiculous passing play saw McKenna feed Martone, who dropped the puck past to Caleb Desnoyers, who then found a wide-open Mews at the side of the net for another one-timed goal. Martone’s assist was his 22nd point all-time at the U18s and that sets a new Canadian record, held prior to this year’s tournament by Connor Bedard at 21 points.

The Swedes wouldn’t go away, however. At 8:29 Nordlund played give-and-go with Alfons Freij and buried his second of the game to make it 5-2 Canada. Nordlund had a chance for the hat trick late in the second on a breakaway but George came up with another big save.

George made his best save of the game moments later as he robbed Lucas Pettersson with a glove save. George had Pettersson’s number all game, stopping the highly-skilled Swedish forward numerous times from in close. The Swedes outshot Canada 16-7 in the second and George was the reason Canada took a 5-2 lead into the intermission.

Sweden crept closer at the 7:58 mark of the third when Nordlund made a nice reverse pass to Eklund who quickly put the puck past George. It was Nordlund’s third point of the game.

With 5:41 to play, Orrsten jammed in a loose puck in the paint after a Gustafsson point shot and Sweden made it 5-4 but that was as close as it would get.

"We started off a little bit not as we wanted. We kept going and the whole team stepped up," said Nordlund. "We had two good periods this game.
"I don’t know (why we started slow). They are a good team. Canada is always there from the beginning. It wasn’t there in our skating. We didn’t play the puck well and they had a lot of scoring chances."

The result is some sweet revenge for Canada, which was soundly beaten by Sweden in the 2023 U18 semi-finals, 7-2. Canada will now play for gold, while Sweden is forced to play for bronze against Slovakia.

"They had our number last year, they beat us in the first game of the tournament and the semi-final," said Martone, the lone returning player from that 2023 team. "We flipped the script this year by winning the first game and we grinded one out here to get to the gold medal game."

CAN vs SWE - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship