U.S. beats Finland, will play Sweden for world junior gold

Team USA's Ryan Leonard (9) celebrates a goal by teammate Jimmy Snuggerud (not shown) in front of Finland's goaltender Niklas Kokko (30) during second period semifinal hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Thursday Jan. 4, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The United States will face host Sweden for gold at the IIHF world junior championship.

The U.S. advanced to the tournament final after Cutter Gauthier scored on the power play with 3:13 left in the third period to beat Finland 3-2 on Thursday. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect’s goal came after the Americans erased a two-goal deficit in the semifinal game.

“I’m proud of our guys,” U.S. coach David Carle said. “Even though we were down, I didn’t mind our first period and there was no panic in the room. Our special teams and goaltending were excellent, and we’re excited to have the chance to play for a gold medal.”

Jimmy Snuggerud, a 2022 St. Louis Blues first-round pick, and Will Smith, whom the San Jose Sharks drafted fourth in 2023, scored the goals to mount the comeback. Detroit Red Wings prospect Trey Augustine made 19 saves in net to send the U.S. back to the world junior final, which takes place Friday.

Sweden got there by beating the Czech Republic 5-2, led by Jonathan Lekkerimaki, who scored twice, including the go-ahead goal.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Lekkerimaki said of the gold-medal game. “Very excited.”

The U.S. lost to Sweden at the under-18 worlds in 2022 before the players of this age group got a measure of revenge in the 2023 rematch.

“Stripped the gold medal from our necks,” Gauthier said of the under-18 defeat. “We remember it like yesterday.”

American captain Rutger McGroarty, another player born in 2004 on the wrong end of things in 2022, is ready for the jeers from the partisan crowd — including plenty of Canadians cheering on the Swedes — at the Scandinavium arena.

“I don’t know who doesn’t love that, being the bad guy,” the Winnipeg Jets prospect said. “We’re up for being the bad guy and getting a gold medal on their home turf.”

The Finns and Czechs will play for bronze on Friday. The U.S. is looking to win gold at the under-20 event for the first time since 2021.

Two-time defending champion Canada was bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic.

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