The USA won the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia on Jan. 5 with an impressive and well-earned 3-1 win over reigning champions Sweden. The Americans were led by Rocco Grimaldi, who scored two goals and Vince Trocheck, who scored the insurance marker into the empty net after Sweden had pulled their goalie in an attempt to tie the game.
The Americans found themselves trailing 1-0 when Filip Sandberg scored for Sweden in the second period, but winger Grimaldi scored a pair of goals within a span of three minutes to put them ahead to stay. They were Grimaldi’s first goals of the tournament after being held off the score sheet for the first six contests. He also struggled earlier in the event and was benched by head coach Phil Housley for indifferent play.
The U.S. has now been crowned world junior champions twice in the past four years and have also won events in the Under 17 and 18 divisions recently. The team finished in a disappointing seventh place last year and has improved greatly over the past 12 months.
The team lost two games in the round robin portion of the tournament, both 2-1 scores to Russia and Canada. However, they peaked in their semi final match against the Canadians and beat them 5-1.
The rematch with Canada was easily their best game of the tournament, but they certainly didn’t play poorly against the strong, young Swedish team. When Sandberg put Sweden ahead early in the second period with an excellent power play goal the Americans didn’t panic and stuck to their game plan.
Goaltender John Gibson, who plays for the Kitchener Rangers in Canada’s Ontario Hockey League (OHL), proved why he’s regarded as the top junior aged goalie in the world and the offense then took over. Gibson was named the best goalie in this year’s tournament as well as its most valuable player. He finished the event with a save percentage of 95.5 and a goals against average of 1.36 and posted two shutouts along the way to the gold.
Grimaldi tied the score at the 7:42 mark of the second period and then put the Americans in front for good about three minutes later. Trocheck rounded out the scoring after Sweden pulled their goaltender and he broke in alone on an empty net.
One of the Swedish players threw their stick along the ice at him in desperation, but it was to no avail as Trocheck sealed the win with just 17 seconds to go in the game.
Sweden were without several key players for the tournament due to injury and the Ottawa Senators of the NHL refused to release forward Mika Zibanejad to them for the event. Instead, they kept him in the American Hockey League to play for their farm team.
The Americans have now won the tournament three times in total, with the other victories coming in 2010 and 2004. Russia won the bronze medal when they beat Canada 6-5 in overtime earlier in the evening. The loss meant Canada’s 14-year medal winning streak came to an end. The last time the Canadians went home without a medal was back in 1998.