Confidence carried the day for Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Before their gold-medal victory against Team Canada Tuesday night in Edmonton, American forward Trevor Zegras said that goaltender Devon Levi hadn't really been tested in the tournament.
"It was honest. There’s nothing wrong with being honest," USA head coach Nate Leaman said of Zegras. "He scored points against every team we played.”
Perhaps Zegras was right.
Canada cruised through a group stage that was far weaker in depth than their American counterparts. Levi, who made 19 saves in Canada's 2-0 loss, hadn't faced an attack like American brought on Tuesday.
"We grinded them down low pretty much the whole game," Zegras said. "I don't think they had a team do that to them the whole tournament. We wanted to beat'em up down low, move it up high and get to the net and we did a good job of that."
American goalie Spencer Knight made 34 saves for a shutout and Zegras had a goal and an assist.
Alex Turcotte scored the other goal for the United States, who have defeated the Canadians in the four consecutive World Junior finals they have faced each other (2004, 2010, 2017, 2021).
Canada had their undefeated record snapped in the tournament's final game.
"It was the first team that really pushed back against us in the first period," Canada head coach Andre Tourigny said. "We weren't used to it and took quite a bit of time to get back at it."
Team USA had a strong shift that led to the game's opening goal. Their top line entered Canada's zone and sustained pressure in the area for 52 seconds before Turcotte deflected a shot from the point by Drew Helleson and into the net. Zegras picked up the second assist at 13:25.
"That was the biggest goal I scored in my life," Turcotte said. "It was everything I had hoped it would be."
Despite jumping out to a 7-2 shots advantage to start the game, Canada trailed USA in that department 13-9 after 20 minutes.
The Americans added to their lead with a strong start to the second period. Arthur Kaliyev stripped a clearing attempt out of Canada's zone from Dylan Cozens. He took the puck and shot it towards the back of the net. Levi went in the wrong direction while trying to track the puck on an odd bounce. Zegras picked it up and put it into a partially empty-net for a 2-0 lead at 0:32.
The Americans provided sustained pressure against the Canadians they had not experienced throughout the tournament. From the end of the first period to midway through the second period, one stretch of play saw the Americans outshoot Canada 15-3.
After Canada's Jakob Pelletier received a penalty for hooking at 10:03 of the middle frame, the team found a spark and generated many chances. The best opportunity came while shorthanded when Bowen Byram had beat Knight in close but hit the post.
Canada applied pressure in the third period, but Knight and the Americans held steady.
Zegras' two-point night gave him 18 points to lead the tournament (seven goals, 11 assists) and he was named tournament MVP.
Turcotte's goal in the first period represented the first time that Canada trailed in the tournament.
"I'm proud of our guys," Tourigny said. "We had 10-12 minutes where we went out of our style of game. We did a lot of good things but Spencer Knight was good and they were committed defensively."