World Junior Championship: The US Takes the Gold

Team USA starts to leave the bench in celebration as the gold-medal game ends. Photo from usahockey on Twitter.

The 2013 World Junior Championship tournament wasn’t supposed to end this way, at least not to many learned hockey minds. They looked at the lineup for Team Canada, featuring high draft picks like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dougie Hamilton and Malcolm Subban as well as upcoming talents like Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon (keep an eye on those two in coming months), and thought they were a sure thing for gold. Especially coming off their bronze performance at the 2012 tournament on home ice, the Canadians would be looking to win it all.

Or maybe the Russians might take the gold. Hey, it’s their home ice this year, after all. Wait–no, maybe the Swedes, they won last year and performed very well this year too. Maybe Finland?

But when Seth Jones said early on that he thought the United States of America had the best team going into Ufa, people laughed, wrote him off, scolded him for his perceived arrogance.

Well, Jones was right and the 3-1 gold-medal game against defending champs Sweden proved it. There was one last surprise left for an American team where guys seemed to get hot and find the back of the net at exactly the right time, like Johnny Gaudreau and his seven goals in later-stage games. This time, it was Rocco Grimaldi, scoring twice within a three-minute span during the second period. Grimaldi hadn’t been able to score at all before this game and it had to have been frustrating him.

Aside from a few penalties sprinkled around the three periods–Sweden cashed in on a power play goal to deny John Gibson the shutout–this game was not as hectic as previous USA matches. Vince Trocheck capped off the win with an empty net goal, so determined to score that he paid no mind to the stick thrown in his way in an attempt to stop him.

Then came the celebrations. Gibson was named the best goaltender of the tournament. Jacob Trouba was named the tournament’s best defenseman. (America was prevented from sweeping the bests because of Nugent-Hopkins, reasonably, winning best forward.) The All-Star team has four Americans on it: Gibson, Trouba, Gaudreau and team captain Jake McCabe.

Legendary Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak was on hand to take part in the ceremonies in his role as president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, at one point sharing a laugh with Gibson. Meanwhile in the Twitterverse, Jim Craig–who once backstopped the Americans to Olympic gold and saw Tretiak chased from the net in the Miracle on Ice game–offered his congratulations to the Americans.

Speaking of the Miracle on Ice, one Swedish newspaper trumpeted a huge headline ahead of today’s game: “No More Miracles for You!” Looks like they were wrong too.

After the game, Jones reflected on how the game of hockey has been growing in America, helping to foster the creation and success of a team like this one.

“It started out as Canada’s game, and there’s obviously a lot more kids playing in Canada than the U.S. right now. But we have a very large, growing number in the States. We’re doing a great job,” he said. Once again, he’s right–just taking a look at the team roster and counting out hometowns, I count 13 different states represented. The hockey bastions like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Massachusetts are all there, but so are more upcoming outposts like Texas, Florida and California. As a resident of a Southern state, I can’t help but feel a little swell of pride at that. The game is growing everywhere, even in places where snow is a once-in-a-season event.

This is America’s third gold medal in the history of the World Junior. They last won gold in 2010 in Canada and took their first gold in 2004 in Finland.

Next year’s tournament will be held in Malmo, Sweden. That’s good news for North American fans because Sweden is only six hours ahead of Eastern time, whereas Ufa is 11 hours ahead. That should hopefully mean fewer games with 4 a.m. start times.

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