Who’s it gonna be? U-S-A or Sver-i-ge?
by Andrew Podnieks|05 JAN 2024
Can Sweden win gold on home ice for the first time?
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
The pretenders have been laid to rest and the last two teams standing are the best from this year’s World Juniors. But there’s only one set of gold medals, so something’s gotta give.

The U.S. has won all six games, the only slight imperfection being an overtime victory over Czechia in the preliminary round. In that game they twice rallied from being a goal down, and last night against Finland they came back from 2-0 down to win.

Sweden is only slightly less impressive, the only blip being a shootout loss to Finland during the early stage. 

The Americans have to be the favourites in this one, though. Since 2004, they have been in six gold-medal games and have won five. Four of those five were against archrivals Canada, but the other one, in 2013 in Ufa, was against Sweden. 

Sweden has the exact opposite record. They are 1-5 in gold games since 2004, their only win coming in 2012 against Russia. Three of their losses were to Canada.

So history favours the Americans. Okay, big deal. What about the events of the last two weeks? What do we know? What can we learn?

The U.S. has the more potent offence, outscoring Sweden by a whopping 39-25 margin. On the other side of the puck, Sweden has allowed a tournament-low 9 goals, while the Americans have allowed the second fewest, 13. 

Power play? Sweden holds a slim 9-8 advantage. Penalty killing? Both have allowed just two goals against. Goaltending? They are 1-2 in goals-against average. Hugo Havelid leads all puckstoopers with a miniscule 0.98 GAA, while Trey Augustine is second with a GAA of 1.67. They have faced the exact same number of shots, 84, but Havelid has more playing time, so the lower GAA. Barring something peculiar, these will be your gold-medal goalies.

Even scoring by defenders is close. The Americans have five goals and 27 points from their blue line while Sweden has six and 23. Up front, the U.S. has the top two scorers in Cutter Gauthier (11 points) and Gavin Brindley (9), but these are the only two in the to 10. The Swedes, a bit more balanced, have four scorers in the to 10, and Jonathan Lekkerimaki is tied with Brindley in goals (6) and points (9).

Sweden has never won gold on home ice. Will this be motivation to produce that extra effort needed to win, or will it be a pressure-filled burden that will inhibit free play? The teams know each other from the Summer Showcase in Plymouth last August, so there are no surprises.

There is no better team. The winner will be the team that executes its game plan better. Plain and simple.