By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com
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.