One of the best things about junior hockey – especially at high levels, like the World Juniors – is the pace. If both teams are really gunning for it, then what you’ll be treated to is unrelenting back-and-forth action.
And with spots in the gold medal game on the line, four teams were really going at it. Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Russia are four of the top hockey nations in the world; it goes without saying that all four countries gave it their all against each other in these games.
It’ll be Adam Fox, Tyler Parsons, and Team USA vs. Dillon Dube and Team Canada for the gold, with Pavel Karnaukhov and Team Russia vs. Oliver Kylington and Team Sweden for the bronze. They’re not done yet – but everyone has had mostly good showings en route to four of them being guaranteed to win a medal.
U.S. 4 – Russia 3 (SO)
Tyler Parsons was named the American player of the game, which tells you a lot.
Parsons stopped 33 of 36 shots for a 91.67 SV%. Included in the stretch of the game was a moment when, in the midst of scrambling to make saves – Parsons couldn’t freeze the puck on the initial shot and had to dive across to stop what could have been a golden Russian opportunity – he hit his head against Alexander Polunin’s hip, lost his mask, and stayed down for a bit. He wanted to stay in the game, though, and he did – much to the U.S.’ benefit.
Parsons had to contend with a talented, determined Russian team he’d already faced off against – and defeated – earlier in the round robin. For the most part, he was able to play a calm and poised game; when he had to fight the puck, he had the athleticism and ability to cover all parts of the net and keep it out.
He didn’t give up any truly bad goals, either. The first came in the midst of multiple turnovers by the Americans before Kirill Kaprizov finished it off with an insanely quick wraparound that went in farside against Parsons, who didn’t have time to react. The second came off of a rebound in which the Russians had a lot of space to work with, their defence having gotten too focused on one player in particular (more on that in a moment). The third was a breakaway goal by Denis Guryanov (more on that in a moment, too).
Though he didn’t pick up a point, Parsons was key on the Americans’ second goal on the powerplay. He picked up the puck in his own end after the Russians cleared it, and after passing it directly up to the Russians’ blueline, Luke Kunin tied the game.
But it was the end of regulation and overtime in which Parsons really shined. He made several big stops with the game tied at three, and he played aggressive in overtime, often sitting at the top of the crease to challenge the shooter, and stopping the puck every time. He faced eight shots over the 10-minute overtime period alone.
Parsons gave up three goals in the shootout, two on his right side and one off the post off of the left side and in; he also made three saves via the splits, his glove hand, and his blocker – before the seventh shot he faced went off the post. He had a phenomenal game.
Adam Fox played just 11:18 as the Americans chose to lean on their older defencemen, especially Charlie McAvoy, who played 31:55. Fox only played 1:38 in the third period, and didn’t set foot on the ice during overtime.
In addition to the U.S. playing with a shorter bench in general, there may be a reason for that: Fox was responsible for the breakaway goal that led to the Russians tying the game at three. He turned it over right inside the offensive zone, shooting it into Guryanov who then rushed up the ice, quickly past Fox who had zero chance to catch him, and scored. (That was the only goal against Fox was on the ice for, at least.)
Fox drew the game’s first powerplay; upon stealing the puck from Danil Yurtaikin the two battled for it in the American zone, and the battle culminated in Yurtaikin crosschecking Fox out of frustration and subsequently being sent to the box.
While Fox didn’t play on the powerplay he drew, he did get some chances with the man advantage as the game went on, though he didn’t do much with it. He was primarily used in a defensive role once again; he did a good job of generally getting the puck out of the American zone – or at least to someone else on his team who could get it out (the Americans had a great scoring chance off the rush that started with Fox’s patience in his own end).
Pavel Karnaukhov played 12:57, and did not step on the ice during overtime. He had two shots on net and a secondary assist, as he was the one who set up Russia’s second goal.
A prevalent theme for Karnaukhov throughout this tournament is that he has size and he knows how to use it; that was no less true immediately prior to Russia’s second goal. He ended up behind the net with the puck, drawing both American defencemen to him; he protected the puck from them both, getting it out to Vadim Kudako, who took the shot that resulted in the rebound Guryanov capitalized off of.
The whole thing started with Karnaukhov. He could have had more points, too; throughout the tournament Karnaukhov has had a penchant for trying to centre the puck, only for it to go wide or for none of his teammates to be able to pick it up.
He did take a penalty towards the end of the second period by tripping Jordan Greenway (a call the Russians were, of course, adamant was a dive), but they were able to kill off the penalty, so no harm, no foul for Karnaukhov. He was on the ice for a couple of American goals against, but wasn’t really involved with the plays.
Canada 5 – Sweden 2
Dillon Dube played 11:49, including 5:11 in the third period – one of Canada’s most-used forwards in the final frame, throughout which Canada had the lead. He didn’t pick up any points, but his line was a major factor in Canada’s first couple of goals.
Canada’s fourth line has looked extremely agitating to play against all tournament, and the semifinal game was no exception. Alongside Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens he was buzzing all night, creating chances, battling for the puck at every turn, never letting up and, honestly, could have created more goals.
Dube was unlucky to not even pick up a point; not in the midst of the cycles he was constantly a part of, nor thanks to a couple of unfortunate bounces for him (enter the zone with speed, great set up for Thomas Chabot, and… he hits the post).
He was a very disruptive player, rarely letting the Swedes actually get set up; he wasn’t on the ice for either of the goals against, either. He did take one penalty – a kneeing call – but that was about it. Otherwise, considering the general ferocity, aggression, and determination with which Dube played, nothing else really went against him. He was physical, and when he wasn’t, it was because he had the puck on his stick and was doing a good job of simply maintaining possession and killing time while Canada cruised to victory.
Oliver Kylington had something of an unjust game. He played 21:56, one of Sweden’s most-used skaters. He had four shots on net, tying Jonathan Dahlen for the most on Sweden.
The unfortunate part for Kylington was that all of his shots came on Carter Hart, who didn’t let in a single goal after he took over for Connor Ingram. They weren’t bad tries, either; he had clear lanes when taking shots on the powerplay, and they were far from muffins. He was easily Sweden’s most dangerous player from the backend, and in a game in which the Swedish offence mostly shut down, probably one of their most dangerous players overall.
Kylington once again had ample powerplay time, and no penalty kill time. He did take a penalty on the powerplay when the puck hopped over Alexander Nylander’s stick and Blake Speers rushed it down the ice; Kylington had to rush back to keep pace with him, but was called on a kind of soft holding call as Speers was going down. Canada went up 4-2 after his penalty.
He had a bit more of a conservative game than he has earlier this tournament (though Sweden’s general lack of offence may have had something to do with that). He was a part of the occasional rush, but didn’t get lost in the offensive zone on his own as he had in previous games, and made good use of his teammates.
He did have some problems with Canada’s more aggressive play, though, and couldn’t exactly match them. He still had some good defensive plays – primarily by cutting Canadian skaters off to the outside, or by using a smart stick to disrupt an in-tight scoring chance – and he is good at getting back in the play. He was on the ice for a couple of goals against, though – including the empty netter, which he did almost block.