The United States took home the gold medal following a 2-0 win over a heavily favored Team Canada in the final game of the 2021 World Juniors. The Americans were able to break through against a Canadian team that had not been tested very much at even strength throughout the tournament. The host country won the silver medal despite posting a terrific 41-4 goal differential entering the final game and being discussed as one of the most complete junior teams of all time.
The Americans were able to shut out a Canadian offensive attack that had a historic run through the tournament to this point. Canada had chances throughout the game, but they were unable to capitalize on any of them in a close game. The United States used a late push in the first period and a quick start to the second period to their advantage and built a lead they did not relinquish.
Even Strength Play
As promised in pregame interviews, the Americans set out to challenge Canada at even strength, something they had not dealt with much earlier in the tournament. Both American goals were scored at even strength, and their only power-play opportunity saw its best chance arguably go to the Canadian shorthanded unit.
Both teams played a pretty solid game, with chances coming one at a time until the United States was able to dominate possession for a stretch of several minutes late in the first period leading to their first goal. Generating a turnover quickly in the second period led to another even-strength goal, and the Americans spent the rest of the game trying to manage the Canadian attack and keep pucks away from goaltender Spencer Knight.
Knight Steps Up
Knight continued his very strong tournament with a shutout in the gold medal game. After a shaky first start against Russia, the Florida Panthers goalie of the future was solid in every game and gave his team a chance to win every night.
Canada put up 34 shots on the US netminder, including an onslaught in the game’s final minutes, but were unable to find a goal. Knight can thank his defensemen for steering most of the plays away from the front of the net, as well as the goalposts behind him for stopping at least one potential goal. Knight finally earned gold in his third World Juniors appearance, and looks poised to continue his collegiate success after a strong tournament.
Veterans Lead the Way
The most experienced players for Team USA were at the forefront of this contest, leading by example in the most important game in most players’ young careers. The opening goal was scored by Alex Turcotte, his third of the tournament, with yet another assist coming from Trevor Zegras. Zegras added the team’s second goal just 32 seconds into the second period to extend a lead the Americans would not surrender.
On the back end, captain Cam York anchored a strong defense that provided steady support in front of Spencer Knight, allowing him to steal the game. York has played a strong two-way game throughout the tournament, leading to his selection as one of the top three US players in the tournament. York compensated for not getting on the scoresheet in this one with tremendous defensive play against a high-powered Canadian attack.
After entering the tournament in the shadow of a Canadian roster featuring 19 first-round picks, the Americans shocked many people with their performance in the gold medal game. Their run to the gold was fairly consistent aside from the disappointing opener against Russia. The entire team was able to rebound, especially Knight between the pipes, and the full lineup was able to contribute in important moments.
The Americans were able to make up for their disappointing loss to Finland in last year’s tournament and should continue to compete with several important pieces remaining eligible for next year. The emergence of Matthew Beniers along with the impact of Jake Sanderson are among the storylines to keep tabs on in advance of next year’s tournament.
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Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.