United States take World Juniors gold with win over host Sweden
The United States are World Junior champions, defeating host nation Sweden 6-2 Friday to claim gold in Gothenburg.
Isaac Howard scored two goals in less than five minutes in the second period, including the eventual game-winner. Gabriel Perreault had a goal and two assists while Trey Augustine stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced to secure gold for the Americans, who finished the tournament undefeated.
“It’s an insane feeling. Something I’ve never felt. I love this group of guys and to get the job done it feels unbelievable, and in the fashion we did it in feels awesome,” Howard said.
“These are the moments you live for and you dream of. I was able to put a couple in and it felt unreal,” he added.
The first-place finish is USA’s third in eight tournaments, winning gold in Edmonton in 2021 and in Montreal in 2017. The Americans placed third last year in Halifax and were left off the podium entirely the year before.
“Our guys have been through a lot throughout this tournament and to be here to celebrate this moment, it’s really special. There was no quit in our team ever,” Montreal Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson said.
Sweden was playing in their first World Junior final since losing to Canada at the 2018 edition in Buffalo. They were aiming to become the first non-Canadian host nation to win on home soil since the Finns in 2016.
“It’s empty. We [gave] it all out there so it’s tough,” forward Jonathan Lekkerimaki said.
A first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2022, Lekkerimaki scored one of Sweden’s two goals in the final and finished the tournament with seven goals and 10 points in seven games, winning World Junior MVP. When asked if the individual accolade was any consolation, he quickly shot it down.
“No, I don’t think so. We wanted gold,” he said.
🇸🇪Jonathan Lekkerimäki on processing loss: "It's empty. We give it all out there so it's tough."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 5, 2024
Can he take some pride in his MVP performance?
"No, I don't think so. We wanted gold."#Canucks #WorldJuniors
On the flip side, Hutson said the Americans fed off the energy from a raucous and largely partisan crowd at the Scandinavium.
“We feed off that energy. We love it and it’s exciting to play in this environment. We’re just happy it ended this way,” Hutson said.
Otto Stenberg had the other goal for the Swedes while Hugo Havelid made 20 saves in net. Zeev Buium, Rutger McGroarty and Ryan Leonard also scored for the Americans with Leonard blowing a kiss to the crowd when his goal made it 5-2 for the U.S. with under four minutes to go in regulation.
Earlier on Friday, Czechia came back to defeat Finland 8-5 in dramatic fashion and capture the bronze medal, finishing on the podium at the Juniors for the second consecutive tournament after last year's silver. The Czechs trailed by three goals in the second period but scored six straight, including five in the final frame.
Canada fell 3-2 to Czechia in the quarterfinals on Jan. 2, marking the first time since 2019 they failed to finish on the podium.
Next year’s World Juniors will take place in Ottawa before moving to Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2026.