And then there were two. The IIHF World Junior Championship trophy will stay in North America as Canada and the United States clash for the gold medal in a meeting of – statistically, at least – the two best teams in the tournament from start to finish.
Canada came out firing in its semifinal against Russia, scoring less than a minute in and taking a 3-0 lead after the first period en route to a convincing 5-0 win. Dylan Cozens led the way offensively (again) with a goal and two assists, while Devon Levi was rock solid (again) in the Canadian goal, turning away each and every one of the 28 shots sent his way to record his third shutout, tying the single-tournament record.
The Americans looked to be in control of their semifinal against Finland, taking a 3-1 lead into the final 10 minutes, but the Finns – as they are wont to do – clawed their way back and tied it with less than four minutes to go. That set the stage for Arthur Kaliyev, who scored a dramatic game-winner with just 77 seconds remaining to give the U.S. a 4-3 win and send them into the final.
The rivals faced off in a marquee Boxing Day match-up to open the tournament a year ago in Ostrava. The game was an instant World Juniors classic – the U.S. scored twice in the first period before Canada replied with three in the second to take the lead. Barrett Hayton got his second of the game midway through the third period to make it 4-2, but the Americans replied with two goals in four minutes to tie the game. Alexis Lafrenière took over from there, scoring just seven seconds after the game-tying goal to put the Canadians ahead for good before setting up Ty Dellandrea for the empty-net insurance marker in a wild 6-4 win.
WHAT TO WATCH
Let’s start with the Canadian depth. Cozens is the team scoring leader by a wide margin, just two points shy of Dale McCourt (1977) and Brayden Schenn (2011) for the single-tournament Canadian record, but the boys in heritage red have been getting contributions from up and down the line-up. Seventeen different players have scored goals, 11 have at least two and nine and averaging at least a point per game. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the other-worldly performance of Levi, whose shutout streak is at just under 135 minutes (the Canadian record is 151:50) and who still has yet to allow a goal at even-strength in the tournament.
The American line of Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev might be the best in the tournament. Zegras sits tied with Cozens for the scoring lead at 16 points, while Turcotte and Kaliyev have posted seven apiece. Not surprisingly, they were the trio responsible for the late winner against the Finns. And don’t forget about Spencer Knight; the U.S. goaltender ranks second to Levi in goals-against average (1.98), save percentage (.922) and shutouts (two).
DON’T I KNOW YOU?
Games between Canada and the United States are nothing new on the international stage, so these players are more than familiar with each other. Case in point…
2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (6-4 U.S. win in gold medal game)
Canada (4) – Byram, Cozens, Holloway, Krebs, Suzuki
United States (9) – Boldy, Caufield, Helleson, Knight, Moynihan, Thrun, Turcotte, York, Zegras
2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup (6-5 Canada win in overtime in semifinal)
Canada (10) – Barron, Byram, Cozens, Gauthier, Holloway, Korczak, Krebs, Pelletier, Schneider, Suzuki
United States (5) – Colangelo, Farinacci, Kaliyev, LaCombe, Wolf
2019 IIHF U18 World Championship (5-2 U.S. win in bronze medal game)
Canada (14) – Cozens, Drysdale, Gauthier, Harley, Holloway, Korczak, Krebs, Newhook, Pelletier, Schneider, Spence, Suzuki, Tomasino, Zary
United States (11) – Beniers, Boldy, Brink, Caufield, Helleson, Knight, Moynihan, Thrun, Turcotte, York, Zegras
2020 IIHF World Junior Championship (6-4 Canada win in preliminary round)
Canada (6) – Byfield, Byram, Cozens, Drysdale, McMichael, Mercer
United States (8) – Brink, Caufield, Kaliyev, Knight, Turcotte, Wolf, York, Zegras
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Prospects, prospects and more prospects. This game will be jam-packed with future NHLers. In total, 21 NHL teams are represented among the 47 drafted players, led by the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings with five apiece.
The Canadians will ice a roster that includes a record-setting 19 first-round draft picks, including all 13 forwards. Quinton Byfield, who went No. 2 to the Kings in October, is the highest-drafted Canadian, followed closely by Bowen Byram (fourth overall, Colorado, 2019).
The Americans have six first-rounders from the 2019 NHL Draft and two from 2020, including a pair of players who went at No. 5 – Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles, 2019) and Jake Sanderson (Ottawa, 2020).
A LOOK BACK
No two teams have faced each other more at the World Juniors than Canada and the United States, who will meet for the 48th time. It wasn’t much of a rivalry in the early years, with the Canadians winning 18 of the first 22 between 1978 and 1997, but the Americans have victories in five of the last eight dating back to 2013.
This will be the fifth time the gold medal game will be an all-North American affair; Canada won the first in 1997, blanking the U.S. 2-0, but the Americans have taken the last three, all of them thrillers; the U.S. erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to win its first-ever WJC gold in 2004, it got an overtime winner from John Carlson to end Canada’s run of five-consecutive titles in 2010, and it prevailed in a shootout in 2017 in a back-and-forth classic in Montreal.
All-time record: Canada leads 33-11-3 (3-3 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 194
United States goals: 132