Team North America (1-1) and Team Sweden (2-0) finished up their group play schedules earlier today. The North Americans needed to win in regulation in order to clinch a semifinal berth whereas the Swedes only needed a single point today to clinch a spot in the semifinals and first place in Group B.
So did the speed and skill of the young guns carry them through to the medal round or did the more experienced Swedish team take care of business with the pressure on? Did Todd McLellan scratching Dylan Larkin doom North America or did the decision work out in his favor?
Wow this game got off to a helluva start! And I have to admit - I missed the first 70 seconds! Why can’t we have an under-23 NHL team? That’d be the best thing that’s ever happened to hockey; every game they’re in is wild from start to finish and I’m going to be very sad when this is over.
Auston Matthews opened the scoring for the North American squad (30 seconds in) and Vincent Trocheck doubled their lead about a minute afterwards (95 seconds in). After watching this play, I’m not sure Matthews is human.
Auston Matthews is insane pic.twitter.com/W5FqTh4sDp— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) September 21, 2016
And this goal by Trocheck is a classic case of skating to the front of the net. End up there and good things are going to happen.
trocheck goal pic.twitter.com/1fOQZsLmB2— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
Not long after, McDavid was sent on a breakaway that should have been awarded a penalty shot but wasn’t. Perhaps the referees wanted to let the Swedes catch their breath, 5 minutes in and the action was all in favor of the kids; they lead in shots on goal 9-1. Team North America had a lot of good puck movement up to this point in the game, but Team Sweden wasn’t going to just lay down.
9 minutes into the game and Filip Forsberg gave the Swedes some life with a goal that looked like it bounced off Ryan Murray’s stick. This was a smart play by Forsberg to delay, break a bit more to the outside in order to change the angle of the shot, and he was rewarded with a goal.
Forsberg goal pic.twitter.com/9EvgTYxGus— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
But the kids came roaring back. Johnny Hockey raced down the ice on a breakaway, went backhand, forehand and then buried the puck on King Henrik. Gaudreau was awarded a penalty shot early in the game and he opted to take a wrist shot that went wide. This time, he got Lundqvist moving and made no mistake when Henrik bought the backhand fake.
Gaudreau makes up for the missed penalty shot pic.twitter.com/s9SUVjdHjb— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
But another Swedish goal brought things closer. Nicklas Backstrom had his shot bank off Morgan Rielly’s skate and into the North American net on the powerplay.
Backstrom goal pic.twitter.com/QWeHBHO3C2— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
Connor McDavid nearly made it a 2 goal game with 1:30 left on a breakaway but his backhand shot went off the crossbar and high.
After 20 minutes: 3-2 in favor of the kids.
Early on, a Gaudreau breakaway was broken up with a pretty blatant trip the referees called a hip check. John Gibson had to scramble to make a few desperate saves at the other end and the play generally went back and forth for the first 10 minutes. Both teams had prime chances which were well-defended by the netminders.
But the last 10 or so minutes of the period was a much different story. Team North America’s powerplay with 11 minutes left produced some good chances but King Henrik stood tall in net for the Swedes. This powerplay started a surge by the young guns, they started to come after Team Sweden in waves and wouldn’t let up for the remainder of the period. Without Henrik Lundqvist in net for the Swedes, this game could have very easily gotten out of hand.
Johnny Gaudreau’s play really stood out to me up to this point in the game. He was flying out there and made something happen every time he was out on the ice. As someone who hasn’t been able to watch a lot of Gaudreau, given that he plays in Calgary, this was an absolute pleasure. Johnny Hockey is a beast.
The Swedes managed to get just one shot on goal over the last 11 minutes of the period. So I guess that tells you all you need to know about the momentum going into the third.
Going into the third, the kids were 20 minutes away from securing a spot in the semifinals. Did they clutch up? Read on to find out.
Team North America started the period on a powerplay but the Swedish penalty kill looked as sharp as I’ve seen it, not allowing the North Americans to set up at all.
The Swedes came out looking dangerous and nearly tied the game up a few times but John Gibson remained steady in net for the North American squad until 7 minutes in when Team Sweden tied the game up on a shot from the point. Erik Karlsson shot the puck, Patrik Berglund deflected it and just like that it’s 3-3 with 13 minutes to go.
Berglund goal pic.twitter.com/ASBm9TmaG1— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
The Swedes generally drove play in the third despite a few short sequences by the North Americans. The kids certainly didn’t look as sharp as they did during the last half of the second period; a lot of passes were missed and they failed to exit the defensive zone with the same ease.
A questionable call on McDavid with 4 minutes left nearly cost the North Americans but their penalty kill came up huge once again, denying Team Sweden enough space to make something happen on the man advantage. A late surge from Team North America couldn’t get the young guns the regulation win they needed to guarantee a spot in the semifinals but the 1 point the Swedes earned at the end of regulation was enough for them to clinch Group B. Off to overtime we go!
The North Americans came out aggressive and nearly won on a McDavid shot on the doorstep that Lundqvist fought off. Just after, the Swedes came back down the ice with a 2-on-1.5 (a North American player was missing his stick) that the young guns negated. There was a little bit of back and forth jockeying until the last minute of the game when all hell broke loose on the ice. This was perhaps the craziest 90 seconds of hockey I’ve ever seen. Words cannot do this sequence any justice.
It all started with a Henrik Sedin to Daniel Sedin cross-ice chance that almost finished the North Americans off but the puck was sent just wide by Daniel. The North Americans came back down the ice for a chance but couldn’t get anything going. Then the Swedes picked up the puck, sent it down the ice to Daniel Sedin, who was all alone at the North American blueline, but he couldn’t convert on a breakaway that Gibson barely fought off.
Gibson save on Sedin pic.twitter.com/Ip5ZpT84on— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
And then! Right after Nathan MacKinnon found himself all alone in front of the greatest goaltender on earth with the opportunity to ice the game. He didn't waste his chance. With the puck on a string, MacKinnon faked Lundqvist out and hammered the puck home on a backhand to seal the win.
another look at MacKinnon's winner pic.twitter.com/NCU00XOW4y— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
Oh my God Nathan MacKinnon! That was indescribable.
MacKinnon OT winner pic.twitter.com/OtlRsflcoy— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 21, 2016
This game was an absolute barn burner, and I hope Team Finland wipes the floor with Team Russia tomorrow so we get to see more hockey from Team North America. They’re so fun to watch, to not make the medal round would be a shame.
Final score: 4-3 Team Fun. Fingers crossed they’ll make it to the semifinals.