The streak continues: 4 golds in a row for USA
In the much-anticipated re-match of the last two U18 championships, Team USA played a nearly-flawless game, winning with surprising ease, 7-0, to capture their fourth consecutive gold medal. They were led by 5 points from Nicolas Kerdiles and 27 saves from goaltender Collin Olson. Sweden, who lost on Sunday for the only time in the tournament, has to settle for the silver medal for the third straight year.
Penalties: 8:2. PP goals: 0:0. SH goals: 0:0.
Referees: Gofman (RUS), St. Jacques (CAN) – Hull (CAN), Lederer (CZE). Attendance: 2145.
The three-time defending champions played almost flawless hockey for the first five games of this tournament, and they perhaps saved their best performance for the final, where they were totally dominant over a star-studded Swedish team.
Their dominance started in goal, where Collin Olson stopped 27 shots to record his third shutout in five games; the team overall had four shutouts, as Jared Rutledge blanked Denmark in his only appearance. Olson was named the tournament’s top goaltender for his efforts.
Olson’s success was in large part due to his team’s stingy defence, which gave this Swedish team so few opportunities. The team’s defence-first approach was apparent, as they didn’t gamble offensively, but rather sat back and waited to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes; a pattern that repeated itself so often in the tournament. Once they got a lead, they became unbeatable, picking apart a Swedish team that turned over the puck far too frequently.
“We play really good defence as a team,” understated Nicolas Kerdiles, who led the scoring assault with 2 goals and 3 assist in the game. “We’re really good at seizing our opportunities. Today, all of our goals came on turnovers.”
The two teams played the first period rather conservatively, with few quality chances. Late in the period, it was a hard-working goal from the USA’s fourth line that got them on the board. Oscar Dansk, the second-rated European for this year’s NHL draft, made a great save off of Ryan Hartman, and then Andrew Copp and Thomas DiPauli dug away at the puck until it was finally poked into the net, DiPauli getting credit for it.
Besides Dansk, the Swedish team also has a lot of talented skaters who have turned in big performances in this tournament. The highest-rated one is Filip Forsberg, a candidate to be taken first overall this summer. Early in the second period, Forsberg was clearly driven to bring his team back to even and had a couple of glorious chances. First he took a shot that was kicked out by Olson, with Elias Lindholm missing the rebound by inches. On the same shift, Olson was down and Forsberg knocked down an airborne puck with his glove right in front of the net, but couldn’t jam it in. Less than a minute later, a blind pass at the Swedish blueline was picked up by Daniel O’Reagan, who skated in and beat Dansk with a forehand deke to make it 2-0.
“I was on my way back and I got a lucky bounce,” said O’Reagan, describing his good fortune. “I had a little bit of time and I just tried to freeze the goalie and then went to the five-hole.”
“We played well in the first period and got some chances early in the second, but when they got that second goal we never really made it back,” said a dejected Forsberg, whose consolation prize, besides the silver medal, was being named the tournament’s top forward. “I don’t really know why it happened, but it did and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Now feeling the need to gamble, the number of American odd-man rushes increased. On a two-on-one, JT Compher beat Dansk high to the stick side, after which the Swedish keeper was replaced by Marcus Hogberg.
“I got a really nice pass from Nick Kerdiles,” said Compher. “We came in on a two-on-one and I tried a shot and got a little lucky, I guess.”
“I think our pressure was a little too much for them today,” he continued. “They’re a really great hockey team and we have a lot of respect for them, but we were the better team today and we were capitalizing on our opportunities.”
Down 3-0, the Swedes desperately needed a break, and when Brady Skjei went off for holding at 38:28, it was crucial that they get one back before the end of the period. However, only four seconds later, Jacob de la Rose was called for tripping, a call that infuriated the Swedish bench. On the four-on-four, another careless Swedish breakout pass was intercepted by Nicolas Kerdiles, who beat Hogman to make it 4-0, and leave the Swedes praying for a miracle.
It didn’t come, though. In fact, the Americans scored three more goals in the third period from Ryan Hartman, Connor Carrick and Kerdiles, with his second of the night. Kerdiles’ slap shot in the last minute inside the post to put an exclamation point on the victory.
“Seven goals is not a big surprise to me,” said a confident Kerdiles. “We have some great scorers on our team. Everyone has family here and we’ll celebrate with them. Nobody will sleep tonight.”
Three players on Team USA are eligible to return to next year’s tournament, including Compher. What about a drive for five?
“Our team will be here next year and hopefully we can keep winning as the teams before us have done.”
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Best goaltender: Collin Olson (USA)
Best defenseman: Matt Dumba (CAN)
Best forward: Filip Forsberg (SWE)