Sweet revenge: U.S. beats hosts Sweden for world junior gold

The United States got the revenge it desperately craved.

Team USA’s Isaac Howard (22) scores on Sweden goaltender Hugo Havelid (35) as Tom Willander (24) defends during second period gold medal hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

Isaac Howard scored twice in the second period as the Americans beat host Sweden 6-2 to capture gold at the world junior hockey championship Friday.

Gabe Perreault, with a goal and two assists, Zeev Buium, Ryan Leonard and Rutger McGroarty, into and empty net, provided the rest of the offence for the Americans, who secured the under-20 tournament for a sixth time after last winning in 2021.

Will Smith added two assists. McGroarty also had an assist for a two-point performance.

Trey Augustine made 24 saves to pick up the victory in goal for the U.S.

Otto Stenberg and Jonathan Lekkerimaki replied for the Swedes, who have claimed just two titles in the event’s 48-year history. Hugo Havelid allowed five goals on 25 shots in the loss.

Czechia roared back from a 5-2 deficit with six unanswered goals to shock Finland 8-5 and claim bronze earlier Friday.

The U.S. fell 6-4 to Sweden at the under-18 worlds in 2022 despite holding a 51-14 shot advantage — Augustine and Havelid were the goalies in that one as well — before returning the favour in the 2023 rematch.

The Swedes, who have now finished second 12 times and lost to the U.S. in last year’s bronze-medal game, have produced a long list of NHL stars, but that’s rarely translated to world junior success.

The country’s last triumph came in 2012 after topping the field in 1981. Sweden also settled for silver on home soil in 1993 and 2014.

The U.S. led 3-2 through 40 minutes after Lekkerimaki sliced his team’s deficit in half late in the second period, but restored its two-goal advantage 1:19 into the third when Buium scored his third of the tournament on a one-timer off a setup from Smith.

The Swedes killed off a double-minor for high-sticking later in the period, but the Americans put it out of reach with 3:48 left in regulation when Leonard scored his third.

McGroarty added an empty netter 38 seconds later before things turned a little ugly late when a couple of players on both sides throwing punches — a rarity in international hockey — as bad blood from tournaments past bubbled to the surface.

After the dust settled, the U.S. spilled off the bench to celebrate its third gold since 2017.

Sweden came out flying inside a thunderous, yellow-clad Scandinavium arena that included thousands of Canadian fans still in Gothenburg following their team’s stunning quarterfinal exit against Czechia — along with small pockets of U.S. support.

The Americans withstood that early barrage and went ahead with 3:04 left in the first.

The son of Quebec-born former NHLer Yanic Perreault finished off a patient American sequence with his third on a delayed penalty when Smith found him at the lip of Havelid’s crease after McGroarty — the U.S. captain and a Winnipeg Jets prospect — fed a pass back to the point.

Sweden tied at 2:13 of the second when Stenberg tipped his fifth past Augustine.

The U.S. steadied itself and went back in front at 9:24 when Howard — a member of the 2022 under-18 team looking for redemption — moved in alone on a breakaway and slid his seventh through Havelid’s pads.

The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect added his second of the night at 14:19 when he took advantage of a turnover behind the Swedish goal and surprised Havelid with shot from a tight angle for a 3-1 lead.

The hosts responded on a power play with 5.2 seconds left in the period when Lekkerimaki, a 2022 first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, blasted his seventh on a one-timer before the U.S. pulled away in the third.

The Americans now own 15 medals at the world juniors, while Sweden picked up a bitterly disappointing 21st.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2024.

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