Swedes exact revenge, go for gold
by Andrew Podnieks|04 JAN 2024
Sweden scored the only three goals of the third and skated to a 5-2 win over Czechia.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
Jonathan Lekkerimaki's power-play goal early in the third period, his first of two, broke a 2-2 tie and held up as the winner this afternoon as Sweden defeated Czechia, 5-2. The win moves the Swedes into the gold-medal game tomorrow for the first time since 2018.

As Czechia did to Canada, so, too, did Sweden do to Czechia. In the former, the Czechs avenged a loss to Canada in the gold game last year by beating them in the quarter-finals two days ago. But in the previous game last year, the Czechs had beaten Sweden in the semi-finals on a Jiri Kulich goal in overtime. Today was sweet revenge for Sverige.

"It feels awesome," enthused Swedish assistant captain Oskar Pettersson. "We lost one year ago to them in the semi-finals, so it feels great to beat them and go to the gold-medal game. We had a slow start, but after their first goal, that was when things changed and we started to play our game. We feel like they were a little gassed in the third after we pushed them hard in the second. It was pretty clear to all of us that we were going to keep pushing hard in the third."

Lekkerimaki is now tied with American Gavin Brindley for the tournament lead in goals (6) and he sits two points behind another American, Cutter Gauthier, in the scoring race with 9 points.

Czechia will now try to win medals at consecutive World Juniors for the first time since double gold in 2000 and 2001." We'll find out later who we play, and then we'll get ready," said a disconsolate Matyas Sapovaliv. "The better team won today. We had a good first and second period. We knew they would come out strong in the third playing at home. It doesn't matter who we play now. We've already played them both, Finland in an exhibition game before the tournament, so we know both teams a bit. We'll get some rest and prepare and be ready. If we can still win a medal, it will be great."

Tonight’s game opened for Sweden as their last—sluggishly. The Czechs showed more energy and puck interest, and they were rewarded early with a goal. Sebastian Redlich did the work behind the net, getting the puck out to Matyas Melovsky in front. His shot along the ice found the far side at 6:55.

The goal was just the jump start the hosts needed. They started to skate with more purpose, forecheck with more determination, and get the puck to the net with more urgency. And they, too, were rewarded. David Edstrom won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Theo Lindstein, and his quick shot went off the glove of Michael Hrabal and in. Definitely one the goalie would want back.

The second was a rollicking, wide-open affair that started with Sverige claiming their first lead. Axel Sandin Pellikka took a quick shot from the point that beat Hrabal over the glove in pretty much the same spot he flubbed Lindstein’s shot.

At the other end, Havelid made a sensational stop on Jiri Kulich, who was in alone, but the Czechs tied the game at 7:36 on a power play. Tomas Cibulka blasted a shot low under the left skate of Havelid, just as Melovsky had done. 

The Czechs had a great chance to re-claim the lead a short time later when Ondrej Becher stole the puck at his blue line and raced the length of the ice, but he, too, was stopped by Havelid. When the third period started, the Swedes came out to win the game. Only some fine goaltending from Hrabal kept the game tied. Until the Swedes earned a power play, their first and only one of the game.

Just 16 seconds after it began, Sandin Pellikka teed up a pass for Lekkerimaki, and he wired a bullet past Hrabal from the point at 5:14. But the Swedes were only just getting started. They opened a two-goal lead at 12:00 when Lindstein fed Noah Ostlund a torpedo pass. Ostlund went in alone and beat Hrabal with a backhand over--you guessed it--the glove.

Then, 62 seconds later, Lekkerimaki blasted a shot from close range to make it 5-2. Game over. 
Sweden vs Czechia (SF) - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship