WJC Takeaways: USA’s quest for revenge concludes with golden win over Sweden

United States players stand arm in arm after defeating Sweden in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. (Björn Larsson Rosvall /TT News Agency via AP)

You can try to slow them down — at least for a little while — but there was simply no stopping Team USA’s offence at the 2024 World Junior Championship. And with gold on the line on Friday, Sweden learned that lesson the hard way. Not even its elite defence, backed by the tournament’s top-performing goaltender, could keep the Americans’ scoring attack at bay. 

Team USA rode its powerful offence all the way to Friday’s final, the lone undefeated roster in Gothenburg keeping its winning record intact enroute to a 6-2 victory over Sweden and the title of World Junior champions. 

Call it a dominant showing on the world stage. Call it an elite offensive effort, a sign of more USA golden expectations to come. For the players donning red, white, and blue, they called this one revenge. 

For as much as talk of hockey rivalries (at this tournament and beyond) tends to centre around neighbouring nations of Canada and the United States, Friday’s final revealed a deepening feud that’s expected to grow in years to come. The game served up a rematch of the gold-medal contest at the 2022 U18 worlds in which netminder Hugo Havelid and Team Sweden stole gold with a 6-4 win despite being outshot 51-15. Many of the players in that final met again in Friday’s matchup, familiar faces hitting the ice with memories of their last meeting still fresh despite the passing of time. 

The Americans spoke of avenging that loss ahead of Friday’s matchup, and they accomplished the mission, finally solving Havelid. Forward Gabe Perrault was the first to slip a puck past the undersized and undrafted Swedish goalie nearly 17 minutes into what was a tightly-contested, evenly-matched first period that saw both goaltenders stand tall.

[brightcove videoID=6344336281112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Each side scored twice in the second period, with Team USA forward Isaac Howard scoring back-to-back markers to take the tournament scoring lead while Swedish standout Jonathan Lekkerimaki made it a one-goal game again with just five seconds left in the second. A momentum shift? Maybe so, had the Americans not come out roaring in the third with a quick goal to open the frame followed by two more late in the game to seal the victory. A late-game brawl, evidence of bad blood boiling over, suggests that while the U.S. took this one particular battle, this rivalry’s not fading anytime soon.

With another tournament now in the books, here’s a collection of our top takeaways from Friday’s gold-medal matchup between USA and Sweden. 

Offence drives the victory, but U.S. defence locks it up

The story of Team USA this year has been its offence. The opening act of Friday’s final was its goaltending, Trey Augustine shutting down the Swedes in the first period to allow his team to hit its stride. But the unsung hero in this game might just be the defence. A core of highly-touted NHL prospects that, when faced with a one-goal lead in the third period, shut down Sweden’s attack altogether. Defenders Lane Hutson and Ryan Chesley dominated time on ice totals, the duo registering 27:20 and 25:16 of ice time, respectively, in the game. 

Sweden’s search for history on home ice falls short

The storybook ending was right there: Team Sweden, host nation of this year’s tournament, leaning on its elite defence and all-star goaltending to make it all the way to the final on home ice in front of passionate fans decked out in Tres Kronor gear. The Swedes have stood atop the world juniors podium before, but just twice — and not since 2012, despite four trips to the final since then. Sweden made it to the final game the last time it hosted the tournament, too, falling to Finland in 2014 in Malmo. A win over the Americans on Friday would’ve been their first golden victory at home. 

[brightcove videoID=6344339862112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Top-ranked Boston College wins big with USA victory

Team USA won gold, but the real winner of this 2024 tournament might just be Boston College’s recruitment staff. Seven players on Team USA’s golden roster currently play Division-I hockey for the Eagles, including the high-scoring line of Gabe Perrault, Will Smith and Ryan Leonard. Their chemistry has been evident all tournament long, the trio combining for 25 points through seven games this tournament. No surprise, the 13-3-1 program is the top-ranked roster in the NCAA right now. 

Same time next year?

Twenty years after winning their first-ever gold medal at the world junior championship, Team USA celebrated golden victory No. 6 Friday in Sweden. And while the historic connection adds to the lore of this year’s dominant victory and the journey to the top exactly two decades after first winning gold at the tournament, the real story is the future of this program. 

[brightcove videoID=6344341382112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Eleven members of this roster are eligible to return to the World Juniors next year to defend their title. The Americans have never won back-to-back World Junior gold medals. 

Team Sweden, too, looks like it’s built for sustained success. Nine players on that roster will be eligible to return to the tournament next year. 

In other words, Ottawa 2025 should be fun.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.