Team USA outlasted defending champion Sweden to claim gold at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. Led by the heroic play of goaltender John Gibson, the United States claimed its third World Junior Championship.
Earlier in the morning, Team Canada dropped the bronze-medal game in overtime to Team Russia, who settled for a disappointing third place on home ice.
Let's take a look at the medal-round games:
USA 3, Sweden 1
Exactly one year after Sweden claimed gold with an overtime victory over Russia, the Swedes passed the title of World Junior Champion to the United States.
Potential 2013 first overall pick Seth Jones made headlines days before the tournament, saying that Team USA was the team to beat. It turns out that the star defenseman was right. After leading the U.S. to gold for the first time since 2010, Jones may have claimed pole position in the race to become the top pick.
The United States arrived in the finals red hot, after blowout wins over Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Canada. A near-perfect performance against a heavily favored Canadian team in the semifinals exhibited Team USA's high-powered offense and its unmatched goaltending, courtesy of John Gibson.
The Swedes found themselves to be unlikely finalists despite entering the tournament as defending champions. The Swedes lost first-round picks Hampus Lindholm, Jonas Brodin and Oscar Klefbom from their blue line due to injury, and 2012 golden-goal scorer Mika Zibanejad was withheld from the tournament by the Ottawa Senators, who selected him sixth overall in the 2011 NHL draft.
Despite its absent stars, Sweden proceeded undefeated to the finals as the top team from Group A. They beat Russia in a shootout on Thursday to advance to their second consecutive gold-medal game.
Both teams looked nervy early on, playing cat-and-mouse hockey for nearly the entire first period. The most notable moment of the first 20 minutes came with time expiring, when American center Cole Bardreau was called for goaltender interference as he slid into Sweden's Niklas Lundstrom.
The penalty would come back to bite the U.S. after the intermission.
American defenseman Jacob Trouba rang a pass off the skate of teammate Seth Jones to incidentally set up Sweden's Filip Sandberg in the slot. Sandberg launched a beautiful shot past Gibson and into the roof of the net to give Sweden the 1-0 lead.
The Americans fought their way back with a notably increased work-rate over the next few minutes. At the 7:41 mark, American forward Rocco Grimaldi, who struck iron twice in the first period, peeled back from behind the net and slotted the puck past Lundstrom from an impossible angle to tie the game.
It was an up and down tournament for Grimaldi, who began the competition on Team USA's top line before being benched for a game later on. Back on the ice, Grimaldi redeemed himself with a spectacular performance.
It was Grimaldi again who gave the United States the lead midway through the second as Jacob Trouba's blast from the point deflected off the University of North Dakota freshman and into the net.
Trouba, who was selected ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 draft, had a superb tournament with eight points and timely defensive dominance.
After Grimaldi's go-ahead goal, the Swedes spent the remainder of the game fighting for the equalizer. Despite Sweden's fierce attack, John Gibson completely took control of the game and guided Team USA to gold.
Gibson finished the competition as the tournament leader in both save percentage (.9554) and goals-against average (1.36). The Anaheim Ducks prospect made 26 saves in the championship tilt.
In the final two minutes, Sweden pulled Lundstrom to make its final push, but Team USA's Vince Trocheck broke through to score the empty-netter and start the celebration.
It was a magical tournament for an American squad that finished in seventh place a year ago.
The U.S. received major contributions from highly touted stars John Gaudreau, Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba, but they also enjoyed game-changing efforts from role players like Cole Bardreau, Ryan Hartman and Jake McCabe.
Coach Phil Housley pushed all the right buttons to lead a well-crafted team to incredible heights, once again proving that heart and teamwork can overcome pure talent.
Russia 6, Canada 5 (OT)
When the tournament kicked off on December 26, no one would have been surprised to see Russia and Canada playing for a medal on January 5. However, most would be shocked to learn that the medal in question was bronze.
Following deflating semifinal defeats, the two perennial gold-medal favorites sought redemption in one of international hockey's greatest rivalries.
Canada arrived in Russia seeking to end a three-year gold-medal drought with a so-called dream team of NHL-ready stars made available by the ongoing lockout. Russia sought to exorcise the ghosts of 2012's gold-medal-game loss with a championship on home ice.
Canada made the decision to start backup goalie Jordan Binnington for the first time in the tournament, after Malcolm Subban failed to avert a semifinal rout courtesy the United States. Binnington was not the answer to Canada's problem.
Alexander Khokhlachev, Nail Yakupov and Kirill Dyakov beat Binnington with three of Russia's first five shots. As a result Canadian coach Steve Spott yanked his starter in favor of Subban after just eight minutes.
Despite Canada's all too familiar goaltending nightmare, its lethal offense held them in the game. Canadian captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his fifth goal of the tournament in the midst of Russia's opening flurry, and Jonathan Huberdeau made it 3-2 five minutes before the intermission.
Three minutes after the break, Mark Scheifele slotted the equalizer past Andrei Makarov, with Canada's third power-play goal of the game.
Just 67 seconds after Scheifele knotted the game at three, Russia regained the lead with a goal from Yevgeni Mozer.
But Russia simply could not stop the Canadian power play, which retied the game by way of defenseman Ryan Murphy, 13 minutes into the second. Murphy finished the day with three points.
With a tie score at the end of the second intermission, the third period promised a riveting finish.
Russian captain and 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov finally delivered a performance befitting of his titles. He scored his second goal of the game just one minute into the third period to give Russia a 5-4 lead.
10 minutes later, Brett Ritchie leveled the score for a resilient Canadian squad that desperately wanted to continue its 14-year medal streak.
Ritchie's goal would force overtime with the game tied at five. One year ago to the day, Russian goalie Andrei Makarov surrendered an overtime goal to Sweden's Mika Zibanejad, forcing the Russians to settle for silver in Canada. He refused to repeat the performance today.
Instead, Russia's Valeri Nichuskin beat Malcolm just one minute and 35 seconds into the extra frame to salvage a bronze medal for Russia. Though they will be disappointed with bronze, the Russians must be pleased with their third consecutive medal.
Team Canada must now return to a shocked and disappointed nation that has little practice accepting fourth-place finishes. Head coach Steve Spott will bear the brunt of the blame for failing to capitalize on the most talented World Junior team assembled in years.
Spott's squad looked brilliant in the group stages, but floundered at crucial points late in the tournament. In a tale of two disappointed teams, Canada will carry the far greater burden of regret.
Hockey's two most storied international teams will now regroup and prepare for next year's competition in Malmo, Sweden.
1. John Gibson - USA
John Gibson was incredible for the United States throughout its gold-medal run, and he really led the way in the final. He made 26 saves in the 3-1 victory, holding off a multitude of furious Swedish attempts to tie the game. Gibson was the clear MVP of the game and the tournament as a whole.
2. Rocco Grimaldi - USA
Rocco Grimaldi came out of nowhere to score his first two goals of the tournament in the biggest moment. Grimaldi scored twice for Team USA and did a remarkable job of working in the corners on the ice to keep Sweden at bay.
3. Nail Yakupov - Russia
The Edmonton Oilers prospect finally showed off the skills that made him the first overall pick in 2012. After a slow tournament, the Russian captain scored twice to win bronze for Russia.
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