Day: January 5, 2024

Lethal U.S. wins 6th gold

By Andrew Podnieks –

The United States made the most of their chances and skated to an almost flawless 6-2 victory over Sweden to capture their sixth all-time gold medal. They won their first in 2004 and most recent one in 2021, and have won those six in a 21-year span.

For Sweden, heartbreak on home ice. In this their seventh hosting of the tournament, they have yet to win gold.

The Americans won with penetrating counter-attacks and a lethal touch around the Sweden goal. They finished the tournament with seven wins in as many games, and time might show this to be one of the greatest American teams of all time.

“It’s awesome! It’s the best feeling in the world!” said forward Gabe Perreault, who had a goal and two assists for the victors. “They got that one at the end of the second, but we were still feeling confident. We didn’t change our game, and then we got one early in the third and kept going. We scored on our chances.”

“It’s a great feeling,” added goalie Trey Augustine. “We just stuck to our game plan, and things worked out for us. I think the turning point was early in the third when we got that goal from Buium. That settled us down. It was a great game for us. We wanted to make them make a perfect shot.”

“In the first two periods, we had them where we wanted,” offered Swedish defender Mattias Havelid. “In the third, they had a one-goal lead, but we felt good. Then they scored, and things didn’t go our way. When we play relaxed, we can beat pretty much any team. But when we took that double minor in the third, they got the momentum back, and it was pretty tough after that.”

The game started cautiously, but Sweden started to assert itself and had the puck in the U.S. end for several extended stretches, but they misfired too often and ended up not testing Augustine to any great degree. Their best player was Noah Ostlund, who had three terrific chances. But he fired high and wide on the first, didn’t get much wood on a backhand between his legs on the second, and was stopped by Augustine after a great move on the third.

At the other end, Quinn Finley split the defence and went in alone, but as Havelid tried to pokecheck him, Finley moved wide only to run out of room. The Americans struck for the opening goal at 16:56 on a great play by defender Will Smith. From the point, he took a slap-pass to Perreault to the side of the goal, and Perreault redirected the puck past the outstretched pad of the goalie, sending the small but loud contingent of American fans into a frenzy.

The Swedes got just the start they needed in the second, tying the game at 2:13 on a play we’ve seen before. Mattias Havelid took a simple point shot that was beautifully tipped in front by Otto Stenberg. The Swedes continued to press and had the better of play, but time after time they fired wide on a good scoring opportunity.

The Americans were utterly brilliant on the counter-attack, springing a man as soon as they got possession in their own end. Will Smith created a partial breakaway through speed and hard work, but he shot wide. But on another counter, Isaac Howard corralled a clearing along the boards when a Swedish defender had turned the wrong way. Howard went in alone and slid the puck between Havelid’s pads at 9:24 to restore the Americans’ lead.

Worse for the home fans, the U.S. double their lead five minutes later. Howard came out from behind the goal and faked a pass in front, putting the puck on goal instead. It went off the goalie’s back skate and in, silencing the crowd and giving the visitors a 3-1 lead.

Sweden got a desperately needed goal before the end of the period, though. Working the power play, Jonathan Lekkerimaki blasted a high point shot past Augustine with only 5.2 seconds left on the clock, a motivating goal if ever there was one.

But the Americans responded just 1:19 into the third after Sweden iced the puck unnecessarily. The U.S. won the ensuing faceoff back to the point, and Zeev Buium wired a shot that Havelid probably should have stopped. 4-2 U.S..

Making matters worse, Ostlund took a double minor for high sticking midway through the period, and although the Swedish penalty killers were flawless, it killed four more minutes off the clock for the U.S. Soon after he came out, Ostlund hit the post, and then he was beaten in his own end to the puck by Ryan Leonard, who converted the play with a nice shot at 16:12, more or less sealing the victory.

Rutger McGroarty sealed the win with an empty netter at 16:50.

Remarkable comeback gives Czechs bronze

By Andrew Podnieks –

Czechia overcame a 5-2 Finland lead and scored the only five goals of the third period to defeat Finland 8-5 and win the bronze medal, their second medal in as many years.

Tomas Hamara scored the winner at 18:19 off a faceoff win just 15 seconds after they had tied the score with the extra attacker. They then added two empty netters. It was a shocking collapse from Finland which looked dominant in the last half of the second period.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this,” Hamara said, medal around his neck. “It was pretty crazy. To be honest, I was really down when they scored the fifth goal because it was my fault, a big mistake. But my teammates helped me a lot. They were cheering on the bench to pick me up. I knew I had to do something special, so I’m so glad I scored that goal, and so happy that we won. It means so much for us.”

That wild third period produced two records. The Czechs scored four goals in a span of just 50 seconds, obliterating the previous record of 68 seconds set by Canada in 1983. They also scored two goals in two seconds, both empty netters. The previous record was six seconds, set three times.

It was a game that featured two teams with very different records in bronze-medal games. The Finns had won five of seven games for third place while Czechia had won just one of seven. The pattern proved the opposite today.

“Our coaches did a great job preparing us,” Hamara added. “Even right after the game yesterday they were telling us we have no time to be sad or disappointed. Just focus on tomorrow because it’s a game for the bronze medal.”

Ondrej Becher had a hat trick and two assists while Jiri Kulich had two goals and two assists. Hamara had a goal and two helpers.

Finland got the early jump on the medals with two goals just 90 seconds apart. The first came at 6:13 when Rasmus Kumpulainen moved into the slot and fired a shot past the weak glove of Michael Hrabal, who has given up many a goal to the trapper side.

The Finns made it 2-0 off a turnover behind the Czechia net. Jani Nyman had a good look at the goal before shooting, netting his second goal of the tournament. After Hrabal surrendered this goal coach Patrik Augusta made a change, putting in Jakub Vondras, who was seeing his first action of the tournament. 

The Czechs got back into the game on a late power play. Just seven seconds after Emil Pieniniemi was whistled for tripping, Matyas Melovsky made a perfect cross-ice pass back to door to captain Kulich, and his one-timer found the short side at 16:16.

As so often happens in the bronze game, a relatively tame opening period gave way to a wide-open second, and today that meant an explosion of goals, including three in just 34 seconds. The fun began on a Czech power play when Jakub Stancl’s shot from the middle of the ice slithered through the pads of Miklas Kokko, tying the game at 8:37.

But while that goal was being announced Finland struck twice on two similar plays. First Jani Nyman beat his man along the boards and fed Konsta Helenius with a nice pass to the back side, which he converted at 8:52. Then, 19 seconds later, Lenni Hameenaho took a similar pass from the other side from Oiva Keskinen and wired it in to give the Finns a 4-2 lead.

They added another on the power play five minutes later, a highlight-reel goal, to be sure. Hameenaho flew down the right side, beat Hamara with a gorgeous move, and backhanded the puck to the far side. Top-3 goal of the tournament.

Czechia, however, gave themselves a ray of hope with a short-handed goal in the final minute. Becher kept a tricky pass onside and went in alone, beating Kokko with a shot to the blocker side to make it 5-3.

“It was a huge goal for us, short-handed,” Hamara noted. “It makes such a big difference coming into the third being down two goals instead of three.”

Indeed, early in the third, they made life a little awkward for Finland, scoring on another power play at 4:41 to make it a one-goal game again. Kulich, with another brilliant one-timer, was the scorer.

That awkwardness became something worse for Finland–a tie game–late in the third with Vondras on the bench for a sixth attacker. Becher poppped home a loose puck at 18:04 to make it a 5-5 game. That comfortable 5-2 lead for Suomi was a thing of the distant past now.

And 15 seconds later, the game was decided when Hamara snapped a long shot in after a faceoff win. The Czechs added two empty netters to claim their second medal in as many years, and a stunned Finland skated off the ice finishing in fourth place.

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