All good things must come to an end, and so too must the 2021 World Junior Championship reach its conclusion. It will do so Tuesday, with a gold medal game featuring as marquee a matchup as you can hope for in international hockey: the United States vs. Canada. The North American archrivals will take the ice in the main event after Finland and Russia fight for bronze. With no relegation round this year, the last day of the tournament will feature just these two matchups, but they are both as good as neutral fans can hope for.
Bronze Medal Game: Finland vs. Russia (5:30 PM)
Finland: Team Preview
Russia: Team Preview
Finland battled back to give the United States a scare in the semifinal, but Arthur Kaliyev’s late goal with just over a minute left sealed their fate and sent them to this bronze medal matchup with Russia. Kasper Simontaival did his level best to prevent that, with two goals in the contest, while Winnipeg Jets’ defensive prospect Ville Heinola added two assists. But goaltender Kari Piironen could not stop enough of the 36 shots he faced to keep the Americans at bay.
Russia did not have as tight a game with the Canadians. In fact, they suffered an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Top goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov allowed four of those goals on 34 shots against (with the last going into an empty net). Can he bounce back and command a game against the Finns to redeem his tournament? Or will Russian coach Igor Larionov look elsewhere for solutions? And speaking of solutions, team captain Vasili Podkolzin, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, has been surprisingly quiet throughout the WJC. If he’s going to step up, it needs to be now.
Russia entered the tournament as the defending silver medalists and, perhaps rightly, the second favorite in betting odds. But they have been unpredictable all tournament: they opened by defeating the U.S., but then were shutout by the Czech Republic. Then they brought Sweden’s incredible WJC streak to an end. While a loss to the Canadians is no embarrassment, a shutout loss is tougher to swallow. They will be hungry to redeem themselves and at least claim bronze.
Of course, Finland will be hungry, too. They also beat the Swedes in the quarterfinal, and took the U.S. to the wire. They have been one of the toughest opponents throughout the tournament. No one player has emerged as a superstar, but Anton Lundell leads the pack with four goals and four assists. Can he make a statement against the Russians? Russia will enter as slight favorites, but either team could claim bronze in this one.
Players to Watch: Ville Heinola, D [WIN], Kasper Simontaival, F [LAK], Anton Lundell, F [FLA] (FIN); Yaroslav Askarov, G [NSH], Vasili Podkolzin, F [VAN] (RUS)
Gold Medal Game: Canada vs. United States (8:30 PM)
Canada: Team Preview
United States: Team Preview
Team Canada decisively stamped its ticket to the final with a 5-0 victory over the Russians. They saw goals from five individual scorers, including Alex Newhook, who returned from injury to score just 59 seconds into the game. Connor McMichael and Cole Perfetti both added goals before the first period ended, Braden Schneider added another in the second, and top-scorer Dylan Cozens topped it off with an empty-netter in the third. But Devon Levi was arguably the star of the show, stopping all 27 Russian shots on net in his second consecutive shutout.
Canada has looked completely unstoppable throughout the tournament, with a 33:4 goal differential in the preliminary round and two shutouts in the playoffs so far. Levi looks unbeatable, with a .975 save percentage (SV%) and a 0.53 goals-against average (GAA). Cozens has now moved into a tie with America’s Trevor Zegras with 16 points. But they have plenty of scoring depth as well with the likes of McMichael, Peyton Krebs, and second overall pick Quinton Byfield, among others. They have been the favorites since the beginning, and they will remain the clear favorites now.
But the United States will enter with the momentum. Trevor Zegras has looked sensational, and Matthew Boldy and Kaliyev aren’t far behind. But Arizona Coyotes’ third-round draft pick John Farinacci has made headlines with a sequence of critical goals throughout the tournament. He may not have entered with the hype, but he has seized the attention, and that’s what great players do at the WJC. Plus, the Americans enter off the total emotional high of a game-winner off Kaliyev’s stick in the final minute against Finland.
Without question, Canada is the team to beat in this tournament and in this game. The United States will have to stymy their unstoppable attack and outfox their unbeatable keeper if they hope to win. But if the games were decided on paper they’d never play them. The U.S. has found a way throughout the tournament. Can they do it one more time and seize their first gold medal since 2017? That game was a come-from-behind victory to topple the Canadians in Canada. Can history repeat itself four years later? Or will dominant Canada fulfill its destiny? We will see soon.
Players to Watch: Dylan Cozens, F [BUF], Devon Levi, G [FLA], Quinton Byfield, F [LAK] (CAN); Trevor Zegras, F [ANA], Arthur Kaliyev, F [LAK], John Farinacci, F [ARZ] (USA)
WJC Final Summary
This is the stuff that dreams are made of: the United States vs. Canada in a gold medal game. It doesn’t get better for North American hockey fans, and it feels the entire tournament has been building to this moment. But first, Russia and Finland will fight to claim bronze in a tournament where both countries deserve recognition. Yaroslav Askarov will be looking to cement his reputation as the best goaltending prospect in the world if given the opportunity. But he’ll have plenty of opposition.
Then the main event begins. Canada have looked unbeatable throughout this tournament and a commanding defeat of even the United States would hardly be a surprise. But there is that feel of a great heavyweight matchup here. The United States have had great stretches and have been hard to kill over the past two weeks. Can they find magic one more time and upset Canada on home ice? It’s one of the most compelling WJC finals in years, and an absolute dream for hockey fans.