BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Serron Noel (Ottawa, Ont./Oshawa, OHL) broke open a tie game with just under 12 minutes to go, and Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team advanced to the gold medal game at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup with a 4-1 semifinal win over Sweden on Friday.
The Canadians, in search of their ninth gold medal in 10 years at the annual tournament, will travel to Breclav to face the co-host Czech Republic in the final on Saturday (11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT).
The teams met in a pre-tournament game last Saturday, with Canada earning a 3-1 victory.
Special teams were the name of the game early in the semifinal, with the Canadians and Swedes getting three chances apiece on the power play in the first period. Despite the opportunities, the game went to the first intermission scoreless.
It stayed that way until the late minutes of the second, when both teams converted with the man advantage.
Akil Thomas (Toronto, Ont./Niagara, OHL) was first for Canada at 15:34 of the middle frame, taking a pass from Calen Addison (Brandon, Man./Lethbridge, WHL) and snapping a shot far-side on Swedish netminder Olof Lindbom, but Lukas Wernblom redirected a shot past Canadian goaltender Olivier Rodrigue (Chicoutimi, Que./Drummondville, QMJHL) to tie the game with just three seconds left in the period.
Noel gave Canada back the lead for good at 8:36 of the third, taking up residence at the top of the crease and tapping in a short feed from Jack McBain (Toronto, Ont./Toronto Jr. Canadiens, OJHL).
Just after the Canadians killed the ninth and final Swedish power play, Benoît-Olivier Groulx (Gatineau, Que./Halifax, QMJHL) found the five-hole on Lindbom to provide a little bit of breathing room with less than three minutes to go.
Aidan Dudas (Parry Sound, Ont./Owen Sound, OHL) finished the scoring into an empty net with 35 seconds remaining.
Canada spread around the scoring, with 10 players recording points; only Groulx, who set up Dudas in addition to his insurance goal, had more than one.
“We built on [the loss to Russia] throughout the tournament. We could have won that game, it could have gone either way, [so] we took it as a positive and we battled through. We [have been] bonding more on the ice, off the ice the guys started to click more, find more chemistry, and it’s been really great to see. Playing for a gold medal feels really good, and to have that opportunity with 21 other guys, it feels unreal.”
Canada’s captain Joe Veleno (Kirkland, Que./Saint John, QMJHL) on the journey Team Canada has gone on from its first-game loss against Russia to now going for gold in Saturday’s final
“Tonight was a great hockey game for our group, and we showed improvement throughout the game. Tomorrow we will look forward to competing for a gold medal.”
Head coach Brent Kisio
Canada has won gold 20 times in 25 years of summer under-18 competition and plays in Group B this year with Finland, Russia, and Slovakia; Group A consists of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.