Today, we are on the verge of the climax of the World Junior Hockey Championship. The Swedish U20 team is set to go head-to-head with the U.S. U20.
Sweden U20 has made an impressive showing in this championship so far, demonstrating strength and determination. They produced notable results in the group stage, achieving victories in three matches: taking out the teams from Latvia (6:0), Germany (5:0), and Canada (2:0). However, their match against Finland cast a slight shadow over their winning streak, with the Swedes suffering a loss in overtime with a score of 4:5. Nevertheless, they still took the lead in the group.
In the quarter-finals, the Swedish team faced unexpected resistance from Switzerland. The match resulted in a 3:2 victory for Sweden, thanks to the crucial goal by Sandin-Pelikka in overtime. This highlighted the individual skills of the Swedish players who managed to turn the tide against the persistent underdogs. The semi-final match against Czech Republic was another victory for Sweden, with a hard-fought scoreline of 5:2. Although the match was evenly poised at 2:2 until the third period, the Swedes scored three times in seven minutes and effectively decided the outcome. A standout player was Lekkerimaki with a double, boosting his tournament points to nine, and the consistent performance of Sandin-Pelikka, who made a strong comeback after a tepid start in the playoffs.
While Sweden has been successful, they've shown some decline. They kept a clean sheet in three consecutive group games, however, recent matches signal a slackening defence. Interestingly, the team has managed to limit shots on goal, this is evident from their shut-out victory against Canada with only 21 shots to their name.
U.S.'s U20 team, bronze medalists of the previous World Junior Hockey Championship, has demonstrated remarkable results in the current tournament. In the group stage, the American team secured victories in all four matches, asserting their supremacy over teams of varying prowess. Team USA began with convincing victories over the teams from Norway and Switzerland, which was followed by a high level of play in matches against more formidable opponents such as Czech Republic (4:3 OT) and Slovakia (10:2).
In the quarter-finals, Team USA comfortably dispatched Latvia with a score of 7:2, pacing their energy reserves for the semi-final. The semi-final against Finland showcased the Americans' grit and skill; they were able to turn the game around after trailing 0:2 in the first period and secured victory with a power-play goal from Gauthier in the final period. The American team currently leads the tournament with a total of 39 goals, having conceded just 13. Two players worthy of specific recognition are Gauthier, with 2 goals and 10 assists, ranked amongst the tournament's top scorers, and Brindley, known for his 6 goals and 3 assists.
Factoring in friendly matches, the Americans have managed seven victories in a row, including four World Championship victories against Sweden. The last match between these teams at the World Championships was on January 5, 2023, in the battle for third place. It turned out to be quite an engaging affair, ending with a U.S victory of 8:7 in overtime. On August 15, 2022, the teams met in the World Championship again, where Team USA won with a modest score of 3:2. Another significant match on January 1, 2021, saw Team USA assert their dominance with a 4:0 win.
A final match is always unpredictable, but I'm inclined to go against the bookies. Yes, the US attack is formidable, but traditionally, at all ages, the Swedes play extremely strict defence, and it's highly unlikely they will give the Americans free rein in the final match. My bet goes for a 1X for Tre Kronor.