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July 18, 2024
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World Junior Championship roundup: United States, Sweden to play for gold

Thursday is the 10th day of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, which is being held at Scandinavium and Frolundaborg in Gothenburg, Sweden. The championship and third-place games are Friday.

Semifinal round results

United States 3, Finland 2 — Cutter Gauthier (Philadelphia Flyers) scored a power-play goal late in the third period and the United States advanced to the gold-medal game for the second time in four years.

Gauthier scored his second of the tournament on a shot from the right face-off circle at 16:47 of the third period.

Will Smith (San Jose Sharks) had a goal and an assist and Trey Augustine (Detroit Red Wings) made 19 saves for the United States, which will play host Sweden for the championship Friday (1:30 p.m. ET).

Augustine made nine saves in the third, including a right pad save on a shot from the slot by Jani Nyman (Seattle Kraken) at 19:20. The United States denied Finland on a 6-on-4 advantage late in the game when the latter pulled goalie Niklas Kokko (Kraken) during a power play to preserve its 3-2 lead.

The United States will try to win its sixth gold medal and first since 2021. It finished third last year with an 8-7 overtime win against Sweden. It’s won 12 of its past 16 WJC games against Finland and is 16-3-0-18 with one tie in 38 games.

Kokko made 27 saves for Finland, which will play Czechia for the bronze medal Friday (9 a.m. ET). Finland has finished among the top three in three of the past five World Juniors (gold medal in 2019, silver in 2022, bronze in 2021).

Oiva Keskinen (Columbus Blue Jackets) gave Finland a 1-0 lead when he shot in a puck off the right post at 1:51 of the opening period. Tommi Mannisto took the initial shot off a turnover in the slot that deflected off Augustine before bouncing off the post.

Rasmus Kumpulainen (Minnesota Wild) pushed it to 2-0 on a deflection from the slot that went through a double screen and between the pads of Augustine at 12:45 of the first.

The United States pulled even in the second period, scoring two goals on 14 shots.

Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis Blues) scored a power-play goal on a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle to make it 2-1 at 12:10. Smith tied it 2-2 on a shot from the bottom of the left circle at 16:16 after a pass by Gabe Perreault (New York Rangers) from the right circle deflected to Smith off the stick of Finland defenseman Joona Vaisanen in the slot.

Sweden 5, Czechia 2 — Jonathan Lekkerimaki (Vancouver Canucks) scored two goals in the third period and Sweden advanced to the gold-medal game for the first time in six years.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m very excited,” Lekkerimaki said. “We played a good, full 60 minutes, played like a team.”

Noah Ostlund (Buffalo Sabres), Axel Sandin Pellikka (Detroit Red Wings) and Theo Lindstein (St. Louis Blues) each had a goal and an assist and Hugo Havelid (2024 NHL Draft eligible) made 23 saves for Sweden. Havelid has four wins with an 0.98 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and two shutouts in four tournament starts.

“Today I think we played more relaxed,” Sweden coach Magnus Havelid said. “We had more technical mindset and trusted in ourselves. Today we had great support from everyone.”

Sweden has won 15 of its past 16 against Czechia at the WJC. The host country will play its 14th gold-medal game at the World Juniors on Friday (1:30 p.m. ET). It won the championship in 1981 and 2012.

“It’s awesome,” Sandin Pellikka said about the chance to win the tournament on home ice. “It’s going to be a more important game tomorrow, so we’re going to get back to the hotel and reload.

“We went out and just played. We weren’t afraid to make any mistakes and we played with patience, too. So we knew that we were going to score if we just continued to pressure them and that’s what we did and we’re very happy.”

Michael Hrabal (Arizona Coyotes) made 26 saves for Czechia, which defeated Sweden 2-1 in overtime of the 2023 WJC semifinals en route to winning a silver medal. Hrabal started every game for Czechia, winning three (3.14 GAA, .886 save percentage).

Matyas Melovsky (2024 eligible) gave Czechia a 1-0 lead on a shot from low in the left face-off circle 6:55 into the first period. Lindstein tied it 1-1 on a shot from the right point that deflected off Hrabal’s left glove at 11:52.

Sweden took a 2-1 lead when Sandin Pellikka scored from the top of the right circle 2:35 into the second. Czechia tied it 2-2 with Tomas Cibulka’s power-play goal from the top of left circle at 7:36.

Sweden scored three goals on 15 shots in the third. Lekkerimaki’s power-play goal gave it a 3-2 lead at 5:14. Ostlund scored on a backhand off a breakaway to push it to 4-2 at 12:00 and Lekkerimaki scored 1:02 later for a 5-2 lead at 13:02.

“They have some very talented players but we kept it close and I think it was tight game after two periods,” Czechia coach Patrik Augusta said. “We had two breakaways in the second and didn’t score. After they scored their third goal, they came out a little higher. That third goal changed the game.”

Sweden has hosted the World Juniors six previous times and medaled in three of those events, winning two silver (1993, 2014) and one bronze (1979).

On Tap

United States vs. Finland (1:30 p.m. ET): The United States has outscored the opposition 36-11 in five straight wins, including a 7-2 victory against Latvia in the quarterfinal round Tuesday.

The U.S. has won 11 of its past 15 WJC games against Finland, including 6-2 in the 2023 preliminary round, and is 15-3-0-18 with one tie in 37 games.

The U.S. is playing as advertised after entering the tournament with 10 first-round NHL draft picks and plenty of talent on offense. Cutter Gauthier (Philadelphia Flyers) leads the team with 10 points and nine assists and is tied for fifth on the U.S. all-time assist list at the tournament; Doug Weight is the leader (14 assists, 1991). Gavin Brindley (Columbus Blue Jackets; six goals) and Frank Nazar III (Chicago Blackhawks; eight assists) each has eight points. Defenseman Lane Hutson (Montreal Canadiens) has six points (all assists) and leads his country in average ice time (23:03).

Goalie Trey Augustine (Detroit Red Wings) could start for the U.S. after Jacob Fowler (Canadiens) made 23 saves in the win against Latvia. Augustine has won each of his two starts with a 1.50 GAA and .952 save percentage.

“I think in single-game elimination, talent gets thrown out the window to a degree, and it comes down to your effort and your execution within your game plan,” U.S. coach David Carle said. “We need to make sure our details are locked in in order to accomplish what we need to do.”

The U.S. is seeking a sixth gold medal and first since 2021. It finished third last year with an 8-7 overtime win against Sweden.

Finland has won three straight after consecutive losses to Canada and Germany to begin the tournament. It has finished among the top three in three of the past five World Juniors (gold medal in 2019, silver in 2022, bronze in 2021) and is in the hunt for a sixth gold medal.

The country has been led on offense by its captain, Jere Lassila (2024 draft eligible), who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games. Kasper Halttunen (Sharks) has six points (three goals), and the Finns have received steady play and big minutes from defensemen Kasper Kulonummi (Nashville Predators) and Otto Salin (Los Angeles Kings), who average 22:37 and 20:02 of ice time per game, respectively.

Goalies Niklas Kokko (Kraken) and Noa Vali have played big roles for Finland. Kokko made 27 saves in a 4-3 overtime win against Slovakia in the quarterfinals. Vali, a W rated goalie on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list and projected sixth- or seventh-round pick in the 2024 draft, made 29 saves in a 5-4 shootout win against Sweden in the preliminary round.

Quick links

World Junior Championship predictions

Group A preview

Group B preview

World Juniors Championship rosters

Tournament schedule

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