On Tuesday, the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship wrapped itself up from the Edmonton hub-city bubble as the Canadian National Junior Team faced off against longtime geographical rival USA in the Gold Medal Game. After seeing Finland beat Russia in the third-place game, Canada and USA duked it out for first place for the fifth time in tournament history.
Despite spending the entirety of the past 51 days together inside the bubble, the players, coaches, managers and medical staff making up Team Canada were unable to achieve the ultimate goal of earning a gold medal and the world junior championship trophy. After going 6-0-0 through the preliminary and medal round, the Canadians lost to the United States 2-0 in a nail-biting affair.
Although peppering their opponents with 33 shots, Canada couldn’t find a way to beat rock solid American backstop Spence Knight, despite numerous strong opportunities. Falling behind early, the Canadians fought back, but ultimately dropped the most important game of the tournament following two early strikes.
Canada came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, but was unable to beat United States goaltender Spencer Knight in the early going. In not scoring a goal in the opening 20 minutes, Tuesday’s game marked the first time in the tournament that the Canadians did not score within the game’s first 10 minutes.
It didn’t take long for another Canadian record to be broken, as USA scored the game’s first goal at 13:25 of the first period. Thus ending the shutout streak of Canada’s goaltender Devon Levi at 1:48:20. The goal also marked the very first moment in the tournament that Canada trailed in a game.
Following an offensive onslaught, USA’s Alex Turcotte redirected a Drew Helleson point shot past Levi as the sustained pressure worked in the Americans’ favour. Forward Trevor Zegras also picked up an assist, which put him first in tournament scoring with 17 points. The goal was the first even-strength, five-on-five goal allowed by Levi and the Canadians.
Canada did manage a few chances on a late first period power play, but remained down 1-0 through 20 minutes of play. The United States led in the shot department as well, pulling ahead 13-9 heading into the second period.
And it took just 14 shots for the USA to get its second goal, another five-on-five marker. 32 seconds into the second period, Zegras picked up a puck that had stuck to the back of the net following an Arthur Kaliyev shot that went astray. The slick American forward quickly corralled the puck and slipped it past a confused Levi, giving USA a 2-0 lead.
Despite a conglomeration of second period chances – including a shorthanded odd-man rush, to which Bowen Byram found the post, as well as a desperation save by Knight on a Braden Schneider opportunity from point blank range – the Canadians were unable to find the twine once again the second period, exiting the ice surface down 2-0. The United States maintained a slim shot advantage, up 20-19 through 40 minutes.
Canada turned the tides in the third period, applying heavy pressure for nearly the duration of the final 20 minutes, but still couldn’t buy a goal. Outshooting the Americans 13-2 in the third period, for a game total of 33-21. Even a Connor McMichael breakaway chance late in the period could not find its way into the net. Knight turned aside all 33 shots for his third shutout of the tournament, tying the record of Justin Pogge (2006) and Devon Levi (2021) in that regard.
Although owning a winning record against every other team in tournament history in the gold medal game, Canada was only 1-3 against the United States heading into Tuesday’s final. With the loss to USA, Canada has now lost four-straight finals games to the Americans (2004, 2010, 2017). For the United States, it was the fourth gold medal for the team in the past 12 World Junior Hockey Championships.