A year ago Team Canada blew a two goal lead over the Americans not once but twice, in the gold medal round of the IIHF World Junior championships before ultimately losing in a shootout. On Friday, Carter Hart, the starting goaltender for Canada on that fateful night had an opportunity to write another chapter with a happier ending. That they did, Canada defeated Sweden 3-1 in front of almost 18,000 fans at the Key Bank Center in downtown Buffalo, NY. The victory earned Canada its 17th gold medal since the tournament started back in 1974.
Tyler Steenbergen an Arizona Coyotes prospect scored the game winning goal for Canada with less than two minutes to play in the third period. Drake Batherson started the sequence by creating a turnover along the boards in Sweden territory. He quickly recovered the puck and passed it back towards the blue line for Conor Timmins who then fed a nice pass to Steenbergen. The seldom used forward redirected the puck past goaltender Filip Gustavsson sending the mostly pro Canadian crowd into a frenzy.
Steenbergen, a fifth round pick at last June’s entry draft will celebrate his 20th birthday Sunday. “I really didn’t tell anybody or even think about that,” Steenbergen said after the game. “It wasn’t even on my mind, this tournament was the focus.”
Steenbergen saw very little ice in the first and second period. Accumulating just three and a half minutes of ice time before the third period. He finished with 7:16 of TOI registering just one shot that proved to be the difference. The goal was his first of the tournament.
Canada scored the game’s first goal in the second period, Captain Dillon Dube’s wrist shot put Sweden in a 1-0 hole. It was the first time that Sweden trailed at any point during the tournament. But the first goal of the game didn’t come before a bit of controversy.
In the opening period it appeared Canada scored but officials waved it off as players were celebrating. Replay officials show Sweden goaltender Gustavsson did not have control of the puck as he was sprawled out at the top of his crease. Cale Makar jumped on the loose puck and shot it into the net but an official lost site of the play and blew the whistle.
Shortly after giving up the goal, Sweden’s Lias Anderson went off for interference giving the tourneys top power play unit a great opportunity to add to their lead. But Sweden who came into the gold medal game tied with Belarus with three short-handed goals, tallied another one to draw even with Canada.
Tim Soderlund scored the lone goal for Sweden, his second of the tournament.
Sweden outshot Canada 36-28 but Hart was on a mission. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect made 35 saves. “We knew we could rely on him,” Makar said. “This is for him, he’s been through a lot. He deserves this as much as anybody.”
Dom Ducharme has been with the Canadian world junior team for the past three seasons. He was an assistant back in 2016 when they finished without a medal and head coach last season.
“The coaching staff from last year wanted to see this through,” Canada’s head coach Dom Ducharme said. “All of the players deserve a lot of credit for willing to go the extra step. We could close the chapter on last year.”
After the game, Anderson who is also team Sweden’s captain threw his silver medal into the crowd shortly after receiving it. He took a beating on social media after as the video went viral. “I know he is really disappointed,” head coach Tomas Monten said after the game. “These guys wanted the gold, they played really well and they get emotional. Remember, they are young kids.”
The Buffalo Sabres had two prospects playing for Sweden in forwards Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidson. Neither stood out in the gold medal game. Nylander’s performance was especially disappointing given the size of the stage. “He carried a big load for us throughout the tournament,” Monten said of Nylander. “He was a big help with our young guys.” Nylander finished with three shots on goal but was invisible for most of the game, he played 3:35 in the final period. The coach has to shoulder some of the blame, how is one of the best players on the team and arguably in the tournament relegated to the bench in a 1-1 game? Inexcusable.
This was the first time Sweden has won a medal since 2014 at the IIH-WJC.