Semi-Final Wednesday at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship was everything we could have hoped for. Four of the top five nations played each other for a shot at the Gold Medal Game, and neither contest would disappoint.
Game One of the day featured the United States playing Russia in a rematch from the preliminary round that the Americans won 3-2. Team USA had never beaten Russia in seven chances in the medal round of the WJHC, and it would take a strong effort and a bit of luck to overturn past history.
In what turned out to be the best game of the tournament to this point, the Russians jumped on the Americans 1-0 behind a goal from WJHC goals leader Kirill Kaprizov (Wild) nine minutes in. They were answered just before the end of the first period as Colin White (Senators) scored on the rebound of a bad angle shot by Clayton Keller (Coyotes).
Arguably the best Russian player on the ice yesterday, Denis Gurianov (Stars) scored early in the second period to again give Russia the advantage, but just like in the first period, Team USA answered on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play that was finished off by captain Luke Kunin (Wild).
Another look at Kunin's power play goal pic.twitter.com/UdgRaWT4MM— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 4, 2017
White scored again late in the period to put the United States up 3-2 as the teams headed to the final period. In the third, after a Keller penalty shot miss, Gurianov scored his second less than a minute later to tie the game at 3 and send it to overtime.
With no blood drawn in overtime, the game was to be decided via the shootout. Goaltender Tyler Parsons (Flames) stood tall, and Troy Terry (Ducks) scored three times in seven rounds to send Team USA through to the gold medal game.
Having to live up to such a great first game would be tough, but Canada-Sweden gave it a heck of an effort. The Swedes entered the semi-finals as they normally do, sweeping the preliminary round (40-0 in their last 40 preliminary games) and winning their quarterfinal game. However Sweden has struggled mightily as the tournament has progressed to the semi-final and championship rounds recently.
Swedish captain Joel Eriksson Ek (Wild) struck first shorthanded following a Sebastian Ohlsson tripping penalty six minutes in. Mitchell Stephens (Lightning) brought Canada level just a minute and a half later in what was a furious opening pace to the game. Carl Grundström (Maple Leafs) made it three goals in two minutes, giving Sweden a 2-1 lead and ending Canadian starting goaltender Connor Ingram’s (Lightning) night in favor of Carter Hart (Flyers).
Just before the end of the period, spark plug center Anthony Cirelli (Lightning) scored a beautiful goal to even the score and send the teams to the locker room 2-2 after one.
The rest of the game would carry over the chippiness and physicality from the first frame, with plenty of chances and terrific goaltending by both Hart and Swedish netminder Felix Sandström (Flyers). Julien Gauthier (Hurricanes), for the second game in a row, potted the game-winner midway through the second period. Captain Dylan Strome (Coyotes) added an insurance goal in the third and Gauthier scored into an empty net for his second straight two-goal performance.
Hart made 28 saves in relief of Ingram, and was named Canada’s player of the game. You will have to think he will get the start in the Gold Medal game against the United States.
So, what does this mean???
Canada. United States. Gold Medal on the line. What more could North American fans want?? Canada will be out for revenge for their preliminary-round loss to the United States, and will be looking to win in front of their home fans. It will be a hostile environment at the Bell Centre, but the USA has the talent and the leadership to come out with a win.
Sweden and Russia will meet in the third place game, as the Russians look to extend their medal winning streak to seven.
By the way, in the relegation round, Finland swept Latvia in their best of three series, winning 2-1 and 4-1 to book their spot in next year’s tournament. Latvia will be replaced by Belarus in next year’s WJHC.
- United States vs. Canada (Gold Medal Game): 8:00 p.m. ET, Bell Centre
- Sweden vs. Russia (Third Place Game): 3:30 p.m. ET, Bell Centre
All games will be shown on NHL Network in the United States.