Team USA faced one of the most daunting tasks in the sport of hockey in the early hours of Thursday morning. Going up against an unbeaten Canadian squad to whom they had suffered a 2-1 loss only four days, the U.S. team was fighting for a spot in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championship.
With arguably the biggest powerhouse in the world standing between them and the final, the American team did not seem likely to advance, but Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau stepped up and had a standout performance. He notched two goals and assisted on a third to aid his team in a statement-making 5-1 win over Canada.
Gaudreau started off strong just four minutes into the game, getting an early backhand chance that went just high of the crossbar. The U.S. did not stop pressuring, though, and just three minutes later Jake McCabe of the University of Wisconsin put Team USA on the board. The Canadian defense struggled throughout the first period, showing an inability to clear the puck. A second goal by McCabe with just four minutes remaining gave the Americans a 2-0 lead going into the first break.
Gaudreau came out firing in the second period. After an impressive Canadian chance and a save by American goalie John Gibson sent Team USA back up the ice, a toe drag and quick forehand shot from Gaudreau netted his first goal of the game. His scoring did not end there, as ten minutes later he earned another point with an assist on Harvard freshman Jim Vesey’s 4-0 goal.
With Team USA ahead by four, the Canadians made a goaltending switch and held off the Americans for the rest of the period. Early in the third, a goal by Canadian Ty Rattie of the Western Hockey League cut the American lead to three, but Gibson didn’t relent in net, stalling any sort of Canadian comeback. With just over four minutes remaining, Gaudreau scored his seventh goal of the tournament and second of the game to ice the cake on a significant American victory.
Gaudreau’s seven goals and two assists in the tournament give him the most goals and points for the Americans as they head into the gold medal game, set to play Saturday against Sweden, another unbeaten foe. The Americans are riding a strong wave, however, as dominant victories in their last three games have led them to outscore their opponents 21-4. Sweden has had slightly closer victories, edging out Russia 3-2 in the semifinal, but high save percentages from Swedish goaltenders Niklas Lundstrom and Joel Lassinantti forecast a challenge for Team USA. Despite Sweden’s talented goalies, another strong performance from Gaudreau could lead the Americans to their second gold medal in four years.