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Sweden embraces golden opportunity to change World Junior reputation

Sweden Noah Ostlund - The Canadian Press

Team Sweden held a media availability at the Scandinavium on Friday morning


After years of heartbreak and coming up short in the playoff rounds, Team Sweden is getting a golden opportunity to change its World Juniors reputation. 

"We talked a lot about that," said defenceman Axel Sandin Pellikka. "We have won two gold medals in like 45 years. It's special to get a chance to bring home the gold here on home ice, the third gold of all-time. It's a terrific opportunity. We'll do our best." 

Sweden last stood atop the podium at the under-20 championship in 2012 when Mika Zibanejad scored the overtime goal to beat Russia in Calgary. 

"That one we watched many times," said Sweden captain Liam Ohgren. "Maybe one of us is that hero tonight." 

The opportunity is huge. The stakes are high. 

"We have to break through," said head coach Magnus Havelid. "To play this final in front of our home crowd, our fans, that will help us educate, develop new players coming in. It's very important." 

Anders Larsson, president of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, announced that almost 25 per cent of the entire population tuned in to watch some of Sweden's quarter-final win. 

The last time Sweden hosted the event, 10 years ago in Malmo, they came painfully close to winning it all, but fell to arch rival Finland in overtime of the gold-medal game. 

"I remember that tournament," said centre Noah Ostlund. "It was great team, and it was so close to winning the gold medal. I remember that." 

A perennial contender, Sweden has been unable to parlay preliminary round success into titles. And those past failures seemed to haunt this group in their quarter-final against Switzerland. They blew a 2-0 lead and needed a power-play goal in overtime to avoid disaster. 

In Thursday's semifinal, Sweden fell behind early, but never lost its composure. 

"We went out and just played," said Sandin Pellikka. "We didn't be afraid to make any mistakes and we played with patience too. We knew we were going to score if we continue pressuring them."

"It was the mental part of it," said Havelid. "Almost everything to lose against Switzerland, more the feeling of everything to win [against Czechia]."

The message from the coach heading into Friday's gold-medal game against Team USA?

"Follow up the third period that we had yesterday," Havelid. "Start there."

"Try to be in their zone as much as possible," advised Ohgren. "We have a really good offence, and they struggle a little bit in the D-zone."

Sweden broke open Thursday's semifinal with a three-goal third period. Ostlund scored a breakaway goal and dabbed.  

"That third period, it means we're a great team," said Ostlund, who explained the celebration was inspired by a video his friend Melvin Fernström, who made his debut with Orebro HK on Thursday, sent him. "If we play like that no team is going to beat us."

It felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders even if the job isn't done. Asked about defenceman Tom Willander, who was standing a few feet away, Havelid broke into a smile. 

"He is on TikTok right now so he's not listening," the coach cracked. "Tom is growing game by game. Hopefully he has his best game."
Then it was Willander's turn to talk about dealing with pressure. 

"I don't know," the Vancouver Canucks prospect said. "I just try and think of the opportunity. Don't see the negative. Try to push those thoughts away of anything going wrong and just seeing what a possibility it is."

"We've been together this group, almost all of us, since u16," said Ohgren. "It would mean everything. Absolutely everything."

ContentId(1.2058023): 'We have to break through': Sweden turns pressure into possibility


Standing in Sweden's way is a familiar foe in the United States. The pair of pre-tournament favourites topped their groups in the preliminary round. The United States survived a shootout against Czechia and remains undefeated. Sweden dropped a shootout against Finland but is otherwise perfect. 

For this age group, this has been the rivalry. Sweden beat the USA in the final of the 2022 under-18 World Championship. 

"We remember it like yesterday," said USA centre Cutter Gauthier. "They stripped a gold medal from our necks. So, we'll be ready to go, and we'll give them everything we got."

"We have some unfinished business with Sweden," said captain Rutger McGroarty. 

For the players at the National Team Development Program, the under-18 World Championship is the culmination of their time together. Team USA was favoured to win the title in 2022 but fell 6-4 in the final despite outshooting the Swedes 51-15. It's still a painful memory for the 2004-born group. 

"I feel like we dominated all game," said McGroarty, who scored twice in the loss. "It's just we couldn't pop that [key] one. And then they were really good on the power play. I feel like Sweden, historically, is just really good on the power play, so that will be a big key for us is taking two or less penalties. It was a crazy game."

Sweden is clicking on 45 per cent of their power-play chances in Gothenburg, which leads the tournament. The United States has killed off 85.7 per cent of its penalties, which is second overall. 

Team USA flipped the script by beating Sweden in the 2023 final of the under-18 championship. Ryan Leonard was the overtime hero. Will Smith was named MVP. 

"The '05s beat Sweden, '04s lost to Sweden," McGroarty said. "I know the '05s would love to beat up on them again and I know the 04s would absolutely love to dominate them. It's going to be a lot of fun. A lot of emotion."

"There's definitely a little bad blood," said defenceman Lane Hutson. 

The rubber match goes Friday night. Past is prelude, but this is a brand-new ballgame. 

"Tonight when we start, it's nothing-nothing on the clock out there," Havelid stressed. "It's a new game. It's about 60 minutes and you need to have your best performance."

ContentId(1.2058168): USA has 'unfinished business' with Sweden: 'They stripped a gold from our necks'


Trey Augustine was between the pipes for both gold-medal games at the under-18 event. He's still haunted by the 2022 loss. 

"I think about that all the time, so really looking forward to the opportunity to hopefully avenge that one," said Augustine, who allowed five goals on just 14 shots in that game. "You remember the disappointment, how you never get games like that back. Honestly, it's one of my biggest regrets in life, so looking at it as an opportunity to make amends."

Augustine guaranteed the rematch by making a brilliant toe save in the dying seconds of the semifinal win over Finland. 

"A rebound popped out to the side," he said. "At that point it's just anything you can to get over there and try to keep the puck out of the net. We're lucky we kept that one out."

After allowing two goals in the first period of the semifinal, the Detroit Red Wings prospect slammed the door. 

"We'd be playing overtime if it wasn't for Trey," said Hutson. "There's no quit in him and there's no stress in his game. He's stress free back there and makes us all feel more confident."

Augustine and Team USA responded well to the early deficit. It was the first time all tournament they trailed by multiple goals. 

"Not that either goal was bad in the first but it's a mental challenge for everyone, the group, but certainly for the goaltender going in down 2-0," said head coach David Carle. "We had a great second period and he wasn't tested quite as much, but when he was needed in the third he was excellent."

"First period, I mean, you're in the semifinals of the World Juniors," said McGroarty, "as much as I hate to admit it, I feel like it got to us a little bit. But in the second period we calmed down. We had a good locker room talk at the first intermission. We started playing for each other. We started doubling shifts. We started getting O-zone changes. We were tracking back."


Augustine is second in the tournament with a .941 save percentage. Sweden's Hugo Havelid is leading the way at .952. It was Havelid who broke American hearts at the 2022 under-18 tournament. 

"I remember it very clearly," the 5-foot-10 undrafted goalie said. "We played as a team that game, almost two years ago now, and hopefully we can make that happen again."

"He was unbelievable," Ohgren recalled. "I've seen some videos from the USA team, and they have really much respect for him. He's been unbelievable and he's going to be unstoppable tonight." 

How does Havelid, who is the nephew of Sweden's head coach, handle the pressure? 

"Of course you get a little bit nervous for these big games," he said, "but these are games I love to play. These are the games I dream of playing. So, I try and enjoy the moment as much as possible and stay focused and try not to get too nervous. A little bit nervous is good, I think. The main thing is I love playing these games and I think that's a big part of my game."

The Americans are using the 2022 final at the under-18 championship as motivation, but so are the Swedes. 

"It brings confidence that we know we can play good in a big game as a finalist," said Ostlund. "It means a lot." 


The 2022 under-18 event was in Germany. The 2023 tournament was in Switzerland. The 2024 World Juniors are in Sweden with more than 11,500 fans expected to pack the Scandinavium for Friday's final. 

"We love it," said McGroarty with a wide smile. "We're up for it. We're up for being the bad guy and getting a gold medal on their home turf."

"We love the boos," Hutson said. "We want to keep giving them something to boo about. We got great support from our parents."

Playing in a hostile environment would make the win even sweeter for Gauthier. 

"It feels a lot better when you win in their home country," the Philadelphia Flyers first rounder said. "I've dreamt of nothing more than beating these guys on their home turf." 

The USA started the tournament playing in a smaller building in front of only a couple thousand fans. 

"It's the two best teams here," said Carle. "It's as it should be. It's the game we came for, to play them in this game. We're looking forward to a great atmosphere. The hosts have done a great job with us and hosting the event. It was an excellent atmosphere [against Finland] without Sweden in the game so we're looking forward to a great environment."

ContentId(1.2058160): USA embraces villain role in gold-medal game: 'We're up for being the bad guy'


Swedish winger Jonathan Lekkerimaki is tied for the tournament lead with six goals. The Canucks prospect struck twice in the semifinals. 

"He's a sniper," said linemate Ostlund. "I love playing with him. He brings an edge to our team and our power play too."

It took only seconds for Lekkerimaki to fire a puck past 6-foot-6 Czechia goalie Michael Hrabal on a power play in the third period. 

"I got a free apple just by passing it to him," said Sandin Pellikka. "It was awesome to see it go in."

"It's so quick," said Ostlund. "Sometimes I don't even see the puck when he shoots." 

"It's lethal," agreed Willander. "Really from anywhere, he can just score."

For a Swedish team navigating nerves, Lekkerimaki has been a stabilizing force. Does he feel pressure? 

"Nope," he said. "It's just hockey."

"He's not afraid to do things on the ice," said Sandin Pellikka. "He goes out there and plays his game. He's fearless and it's fun to see."

Lekkerimaki had four points in Sweden's under-18 gold medal win in 2022. He led that tournament in scoring with 15 points in six games. 

"He's a great player," said Hutson. "Great speed, skill, shot, everything, but we have guys who can take care of him, close off his time and space, and make it hard on him all night." 

Asked about his potent shot, Lekkerimaki simply said it's a by-product of hard work. He's a man of many goals, but few words.  

"He's pretty laidback," Ostlund said. "I live in the same room with him now so he's pretty laidback but can give some fun comments too."

"He's a quiet guy, definitely," Magnus Havelid said, "but when he opens his mouth he always has something good to say."

ContentId(1.2058040): Canucks prospect Lekkerimaki shoots Sweden to gold medal game


The Americans have their own MVP candidate in Gauthier, who leads the tournament with 12 points. He came through with his second goal of the event on a power play late in the third period of the semifinal. McGroarty jumped in front of the goalie moments before the shot. Hutson delivered the puck at the right time. 

"Me and Rut have been talking about it, setting a little screen and moving at the last second so the goalie can't see," Gauthier said. "Hutty made a nice pass off the wall, and I was able to find the top right corner."

Gauthier, who was born in Sweden when his dad Sean Gauthier played for Skelleftea, has three more points than anyone else here. 

"He's dialled in, man, holy," gushed McGroarty. "I've been Cut's best friend for the past four or five years and it makes me so happy for him. I'm not trying to be cheesy here and get emotional, but I'm so proud of him. To see where he's come from, to see how much he's grown, how much he's dedicated to his game, like, I'm so happy for him. He's the No. 1 guy who deserves it. Seeing all the things he does after practice, he's the first guy in the rink and the last guy to leave. He's always in the shooting room, always lifting weights, always doing everything every single day, it's ridiculous how he does it."

"I'm more of a work ethic guy," Gauthier said of his leadership style. "I don't like to be a cheerleader. I like to show through my hard work that I'll do whatever it takes to win." 


Watch the United States battle Sweden for gold LIVE at 1:30 pm. ET/10:30 am PT across the TSN Network,, and the TSN App.