UFA – On the strength of two Rocco Grimaldi goals, the United States became World Junior champions by defeating Sweden 3-1 at Ufa Arena on Saturday.
Grimaldi, who had been held goalless till the final, picked the perfect time to break out with his pair in the second period. Vince Trocheck scored into an empty net in the final minute.
"I was just happy [my goals] went in," said Grimaldi. "Basically, I just threw it on the net [first one] and the second one just hit me in the chest and went in. That's fine."
Filip Sandberg scored for Sweden, whose reign as World Champion has ended after one year.
"Right now, it feels terrible," said Swedish captain Filip Forsberg. "Hopefully it might feel better in a couple of weeks."
Just as in the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship final, American goalie John Gibson – the tournament MVP, Best Goaltender, and all-star goalie – outduelled his Swedish counterpart Niklas Lundström. Shots on goal favoured the U.S. 34-27.
"We wouldn’t have this if it wasn’t for Gibby," said Jacob Trouba, who was named Best Defenceman and took an all-star berth. "We rode him all tournament, and he played phenomenal the whole tournament."
"It feels great. I worry about the team first and winning a gold medal," said Gibson. "I’ll remember that more than MVP."
It was a smart, controlled, tactical game in front of 6,001 spectators -- a worthy conclusion to an exciting tournament.
It is just the third World Junior title for the U.S. of all time. The Americans previously defeated Canada in the final in Helsinki (2004) and Saskatoon (2010).
For the Americans, this was a huge contrast from last year’s tournament in Calgary, where they had to play in the Relegation Round and settled for seventh place.
IIHF Hall of Famer Phil Housley won the tournament in his first stint as the head coach of the American U20 team.
"I’m very, very proud of our team," said Housley. "We got better each and every game. Even in the losses I think we played very well."
Even though Swedish coach Roger Rönnberg was unable to finish his career behind the U20 national team's bench on a winning note, the Swedish program is faring well with medals at five out of the last six World Juniors.
"The U.S. were the better team," said Rönnberg. "They deserved to win and they are the true champions."
The Swedes surprised many observers with their overachieving performance in Ufa despite missing key players like forward Mika Zibanejad (the overtime hero in Calgary 2012) and defencemen Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, Hampus Lindholm, and Jesper Pettersson.
"We had a young team here," Rönnberg said. "They really have done what they could, but I still think we could have found a way to take this game to overtime. But the U.S. were better today."
Before the game, Tre Kronor players posed with copies of the Swedish newspaper Expressen, which had the headline, “No More Miracles For You!” It was an allusion to the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” where Team USA beat the mighty Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics. But really, there was nothing "miraculous" about the way the talented Americans marched to victory at this tournament. They deserved it.
In a scoreless first period, the Swedes ran into penalty trouble early on but managed to survive back-to-back American power plays. The best U.S. chance came off the rush, as Grimaldi hit the post and sent the puck skittering along the goal line near the 12:30 mark.
Sweden opened the scoring on the power play at 1:08 of the second period. U.S. defenceman Seth Jones bobbled the puck in his skates in front of his own net and it bounced to Filip Sandberg, who whipped it high over Gibson’s glove.
Grimaldi made it 1-1 at 7:42, coming off the goal line and firing a bad-angle shot that surprised a kneeling Lundström, squeaking between his body and the right post.
The Americans went up 2-1 less than three minutes later, as Jacob Trouba’s right point shot was deflected home by Grimaldi, standing in the slot.
With under five minutes left in the middle frame, Gibson denied Forsberg from the slot after a Shayne Gostisbehere turnover deep in the U.S. zone.
Early in the third period, Gibson foiled Victor Arvidsson's dangerous wraparound attempt with his right pad. Grimaldi jeopardized his hero status with a tripping penalty at 6:07, but his teammates were able to kill off the minor.
The Swedes upped their pressure in the late stages of the third. Sandberg came close with a shot that bounced up off Gibson and over the crossbar as he bumped into the netminder with 1:50 left.
Sweden called its timeout at this point, and pulled the goalie 10 seconds later. But there was to be no equalizer. Trocheck added the empty-netter on a breakaway with 16 seconds to play.
"We did everything we could in the third," said a resigned Alexander Wennberg.
The U.S. players flung away their sticks and gloves in a wild celebration, with third goalie Garret Sparks capturing the scene on his video cam.
"It’s pretty special how a group of guys that don’t play together for a whole year and then come together can form a gold medal-winning team," said U.S. captain Jake McCabe. "I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to win this with."
This was a somewhat surprising gold matchup, as many had predicted that Canada and Russia would be the finalists. (Instead, the traditional hockey superpowers met for bronze, with Russia winning 6-5 in overtime.) The Americans lost 2-1 to both those teams in round-robin action.
"It just shows that hockey’s growing in the States," said Jones. "It started out as Canada’s game, and there’s obviously a lot more kids playing in Canada than the U.S. right now. But we have a very large, growing number in the States. We’re doing a great job."
It was the first time the Americans have ever faced an opponent other than Canada in a gold medal game (1997, 2004, 2010).
The United States will aim to defend its title at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmö, Sweden.