EDMONTON — The stage is set for the long-awaited gold-medal game for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Host Canada will meet Finland in a battle of countries that own six of the last nine gold medals in this event. Oddly enough, however, neither country has played the other in a World Junior final until now. The winner of this year’s championship game will walk out as the only country with four gold medals in the last decade.
To get to the final, Canada had to face an upset-minded Czechia that was coming off of a surprise win over the United States in the quarterfinals. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead after the first two periods, Canada ceded two goals to start the third, but a late goal by Joshua Roy (MTL) destroyed any hopes of a Czech comeback, giving Canada a 5-2 win, sending the host country to its second straight gold-medal game in Edmonton.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) August 19, 2022
In the second semifinal, goals were hard to come by. Goalies Jesper Wallstedt (MIN) and Juha Jatkola were outstanding in their respective nets. A second period power-play goal by Finnish defenseman Kasper Puutio (FLA) on a a breakaway turned out to be the only time either netminder was solved. That 1-0 win sent Finland back to the gold-medal game for the first time since 2019, which was also the last time they won the tournament.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) August 20, 2022
The gold-medal game will be a rematch of a preliminary-round game between these same two combatants. Canada controlled that matchup and earned a 6-3 win, but Finland has been an especially tough out in the knockout stage of the tournament over the years.
Finland has won each of the last three gold medal games they’ve been and also won bronze in the 2021 tournament. Canada, meanwhile is 2-2 in their last four trips to the final. It should be a great matchup to crown the top World Junior country over the last decade.
What You Need To Know Heading Into Gold-Medal Game
Mason McTavish Has Been Unstoppable
Team Canada’s captain Mason McTavish is running away with the World Juniors scoring title. He scored his tournament-best eighth goal and 15th point in Canada’s semifinal win over Czechia. No one is within four points of his production as McTavish continues to dominate the tournament.
Canada has shaken up its lines due to injuries and just general tinkering, but no matter who plays with McTavish, his line seems to have success. On top of that, Canada’s power play has been near unstoppable as they’re clicking at 57% with their top unit of McTavish, Olen Zellweger (ANA), Kent Johnson (CBJ), Logan Stankoven (DAL) and Connor Bedard (2023) being particularly dangerous.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) August 19, 2022
McTavish is now tied for seventh all time for points by a Canadian in a single World Juniors. He is three points away from tying the record co-held by Dale McCourt and Brayden Schenn, and two points from joining Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros for third on that list.
Finland’s Lineup Shakeup May Pay Off
Finland did something interesting in their semifinal win over Sweden. First off, head coach Antti Pennanen made the surprise decision to start Juha Jatkola in net instead of Leevi Meerilainen (OTT) even though Meerilainen had started four of the previous five games for Finland.
The Ottawa Senators goalie prospect had not been overly sharp in his previous starts, posting an .893 save percentage over his first four appearances. Jatkola’s only game in this tournament had been against Slovakia and he gave up three goals on just 16 shots in a 9-3 win for Finland. It was a gutsy move that could not have paid off to a greater degree of success in the semifinal win as Jatkola stopped all 23 shots he faced against Sweden.
Pennanen also made the call to healthy scratch Winnipeg Jets first-round pick Brad Lambert, who had been ineffective through his first five games in the tournament. Lambert is one of the better skaters on the team, but had just one assist. Pennanen told reporters after the win against Sweden that he felt Lambert needed to learn how to use his teammates better and that sitting out would be good for him. It’s unclear if he’ll get back in for the gold medal game.
You have to give the head coach a lot of credit for making those moves. Now Finland looks like they have a steadier presence in net and a team that looks pretty dialed in defensively overall. They’ll need every ounce of their ability and every player playing at as high a level as they can if they want to have a chance against Canada.
Connor Bedard Watch
All eyes have been on Connor Bedard throughout the tournament. He is heading into his draft-eligible season as they odds on favorite to go No. 1 in the 2023 NHL Draft. Every time his name is announced in the pre-game lineup over the loudspeakers, he gets the largest applause of any Canadian player. Though he has floated around the Canadian lineup, he continues to produce. No one is surprised, but perhaps we should be making a bigger deal about how much he’s actually producing for a player of his age.
Connor Bedard’s release!🤩
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 19, 2022
After scoring a goal in Canada’s semifinal win, Bedard pushed his World Junior point total to eight. He is the third-highest scoring U17 player in a single tournament at the World Juniors. The only two players with more points at the same age are Canadian Wayne Gretzky (17 points) and Czech Robert Reichel (11 points). Bedard has double the amount of points Connor McDavid had and three more points than Sidney Crosby had in this tournament at the same age, and Bedard still has one game to go. It’s amazing how quickly the especially rare has looked largely routine for Bedard.
Other WJC News and Notes
- Canada will be without Ridly Greig (OTT) in the championship game. He has not played since the first period of the quarterfinal and has already been ruled out by head coach Dave Cameron. Greig’s World Juniors will end with him scoring three goals and adding three assists. Though he was the No. 3 center, he saw a lot of quality ice time and clearly was one of Canada’s heart-and-soul players.
- Finland is looking to become the country with the third most gold medals in World Junior history. If they manage to beat the Canadians, the Finns would have six total gold medals in this tournament. That would be one more than the United States. Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, that national team had won the World Juniors eight times. They have won four gold medals as Russia. Meanwhile, Canada is the all-time leader in gold medals at the World Junior Championship with 18.
- Czechia will seek to end a World Junior medal drought that goes all the way back to 2005 when they play against Sweden for the bronze medal Saturday afternoon. The Czechs have only played for a medal once since then, losing the 2018 bronze-medal game to the United States. This group has a real chance to do it as they take on a Swedish squad that has had a lot of trouble scoring goals in this tournament. Should Czechia win, it would mark only the third time in the last 20 years a World Junior medal was won by a country other than Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland or Russia.
- Sweden head coach Tomas Monten will be behind the bench for the Swedish U20 team for the last time in Saturday’s bronze-medal game. He has been the U20 program’s head coach since 2016-17. This will be the fourth time they’ll play for a medal in his tenure, having won silver in 2018 and bronze in 2020.