U.S. tops tenacious Norwegians
by Lucas AYKROYD|26 DEC 2023
The U.S.'s Gavin Brindley (left, foreground) celebrates with teammates at the bench after scoring in a 4-1 victory over Norway at the 2024 World Juniors.

Newly promoted Norway surprisingly kept it scoreless with the stacked Americans until Jimmy Snuggerud scored at the midway mark. That sparked the U.S. to a 4-1 win on Day One of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg.

Gavin Brindley also stepped up with two second-period goals.

"Obviously they’re a really good team," said Brindley, who scored once at last year's World Juniors. "You can’t underestimate any team. We came out a little flat in the first period but found a way to be physical and found our game in the third. So that was good."

The result was supposed to be more lopsided. The Norwegians last competed at the World Juniors in 2014. Although they were outshot 44-23, this effort gives them reason for optimism.

"I think it’s going to be huge, this game," said Petter Vesterheim, who scored Norway's lone goal. "Now we feel like we can compete with any team. I feel like that will be great moving on. We just have to keep it up."

Under head coach David Carle, the U.S is seeking its sixth all-time World Junior gold medal. The Americans last won this tournament in 2021, blanking host Canada 2-0 in the final. They earned the 2023 World Junior bronze medal with a wild 8-7 overtime win over Sweden in Halifax.

U.S. goalie Trey Augustine had a busier outing than expected, recording 22 saves for the win.

"Strong goalie," said Snuggerud. "He’s been strong the last three years he’s been with us. He’s solid in net back there and we’re really lucky to have him."

With eight returning players and 10 NHL first-round picks, the U.S. entered their opener versus Norway as a prohibitive favourite. Yet underestimating opponents is dangerous at this level.

In the first period, Norway got momentum from weathering an early U.S. power play. The newcomers caught coach Dan Carle’s squad offguard with their speed and work ethic, and pressured  Augustine just before the buzzer. Despite outshooting Norway 14-10, the U.S. frequently missed the net.

Norwegian starter Markus Stensrud shone in net, denying Frank Nazar on a clearcut break early in the middle frame. However, coach Christer Nylund's boys failed to score on a brief two-man advantage, and Augustine turned away Michael Brandsegg-Nygard on a mid-game breakaway. Then the tide turned in America's favour.

Snuggerud got a pass from Seamus Casey at the hash marks and pivoted to fling the puck past Stensrud at 9:59. The 19-year-old University of Minnesota sniper, who was second in U.S. scoring last year with 13 points, twirled his stick with a touch of swagger the Americans needed right then.

Five minutes later, Brindley made it 2-0 with a power-play one-timer assisted by Gabe Perreault. At 16:33, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect went bar down on the short side for his second goal at Frolundaborg.

In the third period, Vesterheim stole the puck shorthanded from Perreault at the Norwegian blue line and cut the deficit to 3-1 with a nice breakaway goal at 4:18.

"I got a read in the box play that they were going to go with the seam pass," said Vesterheim, who plays for HockeyAllsvenskan's Mora. "I got a stick on it and just tried to beat their guys up the ice. Luckily I found a spot on their goalie and it went in."

Norway's elation only lasted 25 seconds as Isaac Howard, from the bumper position, tipped in a Cutter Gauthier feed to restore the three-goal American lead. Shots favoured the U.S. 18-2 in the third.

The U.S.’s all-time record against Norway improved to seven wins and one loss (6-5 in 1990). The last time these nations squared off was 18 years ago. The Americans romped to an 11-2 Boxing Day win in Vancouver. Times have changed.

Norway next faces the Czechs on Wednesday, while the U.S. plays Switzerland on Thursday.