NHL

2021 World Junior Championship: United States stuns Canada to win fifth gold medal at event

The United States stands on top of the junior hockey world once again. Team USA secured its fifth World Junior Championship gold medal on Tuesday, beating Team Canada by a final score of 2-0. 

Canada was heavily favored heading into the gold medal game — and for good reason. They had outscored opponents 41-4 and went without giving up an even-strength goal in the first six games of the tournament. But the Americans saved their best game of the tournament for last and delivered an outstanding wire-to-wire performance in order to secure gold — the program’s first since 2017. 

Here are some takeaways from the finale on Tuesday night:

USA seized the early momentum

It was imperative that the Americans got off to a strong start to send a message that they weren’t intimidated by all the hype surrounding Canada’s squad, and they effectively managed to do just that. Thanks to some great goaltending from Spencer Knight out of the gate, the Americans were able to survive an early onslaught from the Canadians and eventually strike first. It was Alex Turcotte who lit the lamp for USA…and, yes, he did so at even strength. 

Knight held strong through the remainder of the period — including during a dangerous Canadian power play — and the Americans were able to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. 

One-and-done opportunities

One of Canada’s biggest strengths as a team has been their ability to apply sustained pressure, move the puck and pour on the chances in the offensive zone. There’s no questioning the firepower that Canada has in its lineup but they didn’t seem to have the confidence or structure that they carried throughout most of the tournament leading up to the gold medal game. The Canadians clearly weren’t at their best on Tuesday night but the Americans also deserve a lot of credit for how effectively they were able to take away time and space defensively. Team USA didn’t play a perfect defensive game but they did do a good job at limiting Canada’s second-level attack, getting sticks and bodies in lanes and cleaning up loose pucks in the defensive end. 

Spencer Knight was brilliant

American goaltender Spencer Knight, one of the best goaltending prospects in hockey, was projected to be a difference-maker for Team USA. His tournament got off to a shaky start but he saved his best hockey for when it mattered most. He was incredible in Tuesday’s finale, stopping every shot he faced. He was steady from the outset and kept the Canadians frustrated while providing a security blanket for the United States all game long. it was a big-time gutsy performance from a guy that USA desperately needed to be at his best in order to secure gold. 

Here’s a primer for this year’s event:

What is the World Junior Championship?

The WJC, or more simply the World Juniors, is an annual international ice hockey tournament that features some of the best under-20 players in the world. A large number of NHL prospects participate in the event every year, both in the form of players who have already been drafted and players who are expected to be drafted this summer. The main tournament features the top-ten ranked hockey nations in the world, but there are also several lower divisions that play separate WJC tournaments for the purpose of promotion/relegation.

How does the format work?

The event typically begins around Christmas and runs until early January, with a round-robin preliminary round preceding an elimination three-round playoff. The 10-team field is split evenly into two groups (Group A and Group B), with every team playing one prelim game against each of the four other teams in their group. The preliminary round uses a 3-2-1-0 point structure (3 points for a win, 2 points for an OT win, 1 point for an OT loss, 0 points for a regulation loss). 

Which countries are competing this year?

Here’s this year’s group layout:

Group A

  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Slovakia
  • Switzerland

Group B

  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • USA

Who is the reigning champ?

Canada won last year’s tournament, beating Russia in the gold medal game. The Canadians lost only once all tournament (a 6-0 loss to Russia in the preliminary round) and secured their 18th gold medal in tournament history — the most of any country. (Russia has the second-most with 13.) The United States did not medal in 2020.

Table

Group A

Team

GP

W

OTW

OTL

L

P

Goal Diff.

Canada

4

4

0

0

0

12

+29

Finland

4

3

0

0

1

9

+8

Germany

4

1

1

1

1

5

-14

Slovakia

4

1

0

1

2

4

-8

Switzerland

4

0

0

0

4

0

-15

Group B

Team

GP

W

OTW

OTL

L

P

Goal Diff.

USA

4

3

0

0

1

9

+20

Russia

4

2

1

0

1

8

+7

Sweden

4

2

0

1

1

7

+5

Czech Republic

4

2

0

0

2

6

-4

Austria

4

0

0

0

4

0

-28

Schedule

Friday, December 25

Slovakia 1, Switzerland 0

Finland 5, Germany 3

Russia 5, USA 3

Saturday, December 26

Sweden 7, Czech Republic 1

Canada 16, Germany 2

USA 11, Austria 0

Sunday, December 27

Finland 4, Switzerland 1 

Canada 3, Slovakia 1

Czech Republic 2, Russia 0

Monday, December 28

Sweden 4, Austria 0

Germany 4, Slovakia 3 (OT)

Tuesday, December 29

USA 7, Czech Republic 0

Canada 10, Switzerland 0

Russia 7, Austria 1

Wednesday, December 30

Finland 6, Slovakia 0

Germany 5, Switzerland

Russia 4, Sweden 3 (OT)

Thursday, December 31

Czech Republic 7,  Austria 0

Canada 4, Finland 1

USA 4, Sweden 0

Saturday, January 2 — Quarterfinals

Russia 2, Germany 1 

Finland 3, Sweden 2

Canada 3, Czech Republic 0

USA 5, Slovakia 2

Monday, January 4 — Semifinals

Canada 5, Russia 0 | TV: NHL Network

USA 4, Finland 3 | TV: NHL Network

Tuesday, January 5

Bronze medal game: Finland 4, Russia 1

Gold medal game: USA 2, Canada 0



 

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