The World Junior Championships are down to wire. Thursday was loaded with action as three games set the tone for what is to come.
The day started with a relegation match and then it was followed by two semi-final matchups between some very talented teams.
Germany vs Norway
Germany and Norway took each other on for the right to stay in the top pool next year. Germany had a big win early in the tournament over Finland but could not avoid being the last-place team in Group A.
Norway didn't earn a single standings point in their Group B round robin which is why they found themselves in this game.
Most people probably projected Team Germany to dominate this one as they are a little bit more developed as a hockey country.
Germany won the game but it was far from dominant. It was a 5-4 victory in overtime. They were able to get it done but not without any drama.
The Germans had a 4-2 lead late in the third period before taking a penalty at 52:46. Norway scored a power-play goal and got them within one. Just over two minutes later, they found the equalizer at 56:06. From there, overtime became necessary.
Moritz Elias scored the overtime winner and Germany gets to be a part of it all again next year. As for Norway, they will have to earn their way back. Both teams played hard in this tournament and should hold their heads up high. Their effort was noticed.
The semi-finals of the World Junior Championships were incredible
Sweden vs Czechia
Team Sweden has had a very interesting tournament. They went their first three games without giving up a goal and looked like a clear favorite.
They followed that up with a loss to Finland to close out group play. In the quarterfinal, they blew a 2-0 lead to Switzerland and were in real danger as the game went to overtime. They ended up prevailing with a power play goal and made their way to the semi-finals.
As for Czechia, they are a pesky team. The reigning Silver Medalists from last year defeated Canada in the quarterfinals. They almost beat them in the Gold Medal Game last year and actually got it done this year.
This matchup between the two was a good one. Czechia gave Sweden everything they could handle through two periods as they entered the third tied at 2.
The Swedes took over in the third though as they scored three unanswered goals to win 5-2. Jonathan Lekkerimaki (Vancouver Canucks) scored twice in the period along with Noah Ostlund (Buffalo Sabres) who scored once.
Sweden is a good team that plays smart and has a ton of skill. They have been poised to reach the Gold Medal Game since the beginning and now they are there.
USA vs Finland
Who will Sweden play in the Gold Medal Game? We had to wait until the second semi-final game finished to see who it would be. That game took place between Team USA and Team Finland.
Team USA was one of the heavy favorites coming into the tournament. They have been marvelous as they are loaded with depth. Lots of first or second-round NHL talent fill their roster.
Finland had a very bad start to the tournament. They started 0-2 and looked like a team that might not do well at all. In game three, however, they found their stride and didn’t look back. They continued to win and that carried them to the semi-finals.
Finland came into this game and dominated the first period. They kept Team USA on their heels and eventually built up a 2-0 lead. They were all over the puck and looked set to play their rival in the big game.
Team USA had other plans, however. In the second period, they took over. Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis Blues) got things started by scoring a sweet power-play goal with his slap shot to make it 2-1.
Later on, Will Smith (San Jose Sharks) scored a big goal to tie the game. He had a wide-open cage to shoot at thanks to a great play made by his linemates.
The third period was pretty quiet until Team USA was awarded a power play late. Cutter Gauthier (Philadelphia Flyers) scored with a snipe to give Team USA a 3-2 lead. That score would hold.
Both goaltenders stood on their heads for their teams in this one. Neither team would have had a chance if their guy didn't play out of his mind. For Team USA, that was Trey Augustine (Detroit Red Wings). For Team Finland, that was Niklas Kokko (Seattle Kraken).
Both teams should be incredibly proud of their tournaments. Now, Team USA will take on Sweden for the Gold Medal. The Finnish will take on Czechia for the Bronze Medal. It is going to be an incredible finish to this incredible tournament.