USA Wins Gold at 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship

1-6-21 By Christopher Williams

Courtesy of MGN Online

The United States won the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in a 2-0 win over Canada on Tuesday night in Edmonton, Alberta. The victory secured America’s first gold medal in the competition since 2017 and their fifth gold medal in tournament history.

Winger Trevor Zegras stole the show for the Americans. The Anaheim Ducks ninth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, who entered the game tied with Canada’s Dylan Cozens for the most points in the tournament, recorded a goal and an assist to claim the tournament’s scoring title with 18 points. The 19-year-old tied the record for most career points by an American at the World Juniors with 27 points over two tournaments, and he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“It’s crazy because you pretty much play with all these guys with the [USA Hockey] National Team Development Program,” Zegras said in a post-game interview with the NHL Network. “We never won our gold medal with that team, so to win it here on the World Juniors stage is pretty unbelievable.”

Canada entered the game as the heavy favorite looking to win back-to-back gold medals. Considered the best Canadian team to compete in the competition since the 2005 gold medal-winning team which featured current NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Ryan Getzlaf, the hosts boasted a roster of 20 NHL first-round draft picks. Canada didn’t trail in any game all tournament long, didn’t give up an even-strength goal, and outscored its opponents 41-4 leading up to puck drop.

The U.S., however, struck first. At the tail end of a rare 52-second shift in Canada’s defensive zone, University of Wisconsin center Alex Turcotte redirected Boston College defenseman Drew Helleson’s shot past goaltender Devon Levi to take a 1-0 lead with 6:35 remaining in the first period. 

Zegras, who recorded his eleventh assist of the competition on the goal, said he didn’t believe the Canadian goaltender had been challenged at even strength in the tournament in a pregame interview with NHL Network’s Jill Savage.

“I honestly don’t think [Levi] has been tested five-on-five yet, and I think that’s something that we’re gonna prove today,” Zegras said.

Turcotte’s goal marked the first time Canada trailed in the tournament, and it was the first even-strength goal the hosts conceded.

“We were able to score first, and I think that was really big in this game,” USA head coach Nate Leaman said in a post-game interview with the NHL Network. 

The U.S. began the second period firing on all cylinders. Just 32 seconds into the frame, Zegras collected the puck from behind the net and backhanded it past Levi, who lost sight of the puck, to double the Americans’ lead and tally his seventh goal of the tournament.

Canada outshot the Americans for the remainder of the game and established significant time in the offensive zone as the hosts tried to mount a comeback. Captain Bowen Byram had Canada’s first real chance to cut the score in half with under nine minutes left in the second period, but his shot hit the post.

Goaltender Spencer Knight was the story for the rest of Tuesday night’s final, laying his body on the line to block shots and keep the shutout. Knight came up huge late in the game, stopping Washington Capitals’ prospect Connor McMichael on a breakaway with 3:05 remaining and making two pad saves on Calgary Flames draft pick Connor Zary a minute later.

Knight recorded 34 saves against the top-ranked Canadian offense to earn his third shutout of the tournament—a career and single-tournament U.S. World Juniors record—and the Player of the Game award. The Boston College sophomore and Florida Panthers’ No. 13 overall 2019 draft pick is the first goaltender to record a shutout in the gold medal game since Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson in 2012, and it was the first time Canada was shut out in a gold medal game.

“Honestly, shutouts don’t mean anything to me,” Knight said in a post-game interview with the NHL Network. “Everyone in that locker room just focused on getting the win and winning the gold. No one was worried about their individual stats.”

Leaman, who is also the head coach of Providence College, became the third coach in history to win gold at the World Juniors and a collegiate national championship. He won the NCAA Division I National Championship with the Friars in the 2014-15 season.

“Win or lose this game, I was just so proud of how this group came together and how they played for each other,” Leaman said. “It’s really a group that cares about one another and they accepted every member of the team, and those are the things that make you proud as a coach.”

Eight current players from Hockey East colleges skated in the final, including seven from Boston schools. Canada’s Alex Newhook is a Boston College Eagle alongside USA’s Matthew Boldy, Helleson, and Knight. Americans Brett Berard and Patrick Moynihan play for Leaman at Providence, and USA forward Sam Colangelo shares the ice with Canada’s Levi at Northeastern University. 

Zegras played for Boston University during the 2019-20 season before signing a three-year deal with the Ducks.

Six players from the American roster—Matthew Bernier, Berard, Brock Faber, Tyler Kleven, Jake Sanderson, and Landon Slaggert—are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.