WJC: Canada claims gold; Nylander, Davidsson settle for silver

January 6, 2018
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Winning the gold medal for Team Canada at the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship is a dream come true for many young hockey players growing up in Canada. On Friday, 22 players lived that dream at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.

With 1:40 left to play in a 1-1 tied hockey game, Canada forward Tyler Steenbergen was on the receiving end of a pass from defenseman Conor Timmins (Colorado Avalanche) to give Canada the late 2-1 lead and land them their first gold medal since 2015.

"What a game," Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme said following his team's 3-1 win over Sweden in the gold medal game. "It was a close game, and we knew it would be a tight game. It would be a battle for 60 minutes, and that was the case. We're happy to finish on top."

Coming into the game, Steenbergen had been the only forward on the Canadian roster to not score a goal in the entire tournament. Steenbergen had also come into the game as the lowest ice-time average player for the Canadians, playing all of his time on Canada's fourth line. Although he only played 7:16 of total ice-time in this contest, his only goal of the tournament was one of the biggest goals for Canada in recent memory.

"I thought [Steenbergen] was involved and he had some jump in his skating, so I used him a little bit more," Ducharme said. "We all know how good of a goal scorer he is, and he's the kind of kid who only needs one chance. He got it, and he didn't miss."

The fifth round pick of the Arizona Coyotes has been a goal scoring machine with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. The 19-year old has scored 86 goals in 99 games over the past year and a half, including 51 goals last season to tie for first in WHL goal scoring.

Canada picked up the scoring early in the second period as captain Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames) netted the first goal of the game. Dube made a power move to get by Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren (Toronto Maple Leafs), and received a nice pass from Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues) to go in on Filip Gustavsson (Pittsburgh Penguins). Dube then put a high shot over the glove hand of Gustavsson for his third goal of the tournament.

Sweden tied things up a little over eleven minutes later with a shorthanded goal from Chicago Blackhawks prospect, Tim Soderlund. Soderlund joined a shorthanded rush with Linus Lindstrom (Calgary Flames) before cutting behind to take a pass inside the blue line. Soderlund then had room to rip a shot off the post behind Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers) and into the net for his second goal of the tournament.

The action continued throughout the night, back and forth the Swedes and Canadians went, trying to score the next goal to go up on top and capture a gold medal.

It was finally Steenbergen who put the Canadians on top for good under the two-minute mark, then Alex Formenton (Ottawa Senators) officially put the game on ice with an empty-net goal with 1:14 left in the game.

Canada finishes the 2018 tournament as the highest scoring team overall, as well as the most efficient scoring team at both 5-on-5 and on the powerplay. Canada also finishes the tournament as the best defensive team, with a combined .938 save-percentage between Hart and Colton Point (Dallas Stars), and the top penalty kill percentage at 88-percent.

Canada's top line of Dube, Kyrou and Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) played very well throughout the tournament, combining for 10 goals and 24 points in seven games played. Kyrou ended up tied for third in tournament scoring with Team USA's Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders) with 10 points.

Colorado Avalanche defensive prospect Cale Makar was stellar throughout the tournament, even though he only averaged 13:35 of total ice-time through seven games. Makar scored three goals for the Canadians, and registered eight points as he was named as a Media All-Star.

As for Sweden, they suffer their only loss of the tournament in the last and most important game. Although they walk away with the silver medal and their first medal since the 2014 tournament, the loss was a disappointing one.

"I think we played our best game of the tournament," said Sweden's head coach Tomas Monten following the loss. "We talked about it before that we need the best game to be the last, and we did. We didn't score as much as we needed to win, but I'm very proud of my boys. I think everyone left everything out there. We gave it all, but today wasn't enough."

The Swedes finished as the second best defensive team in the tournament and had the best goalie of the tournament in Gustavsson, but the offense comes up short for them in the gold medal game.

Sweden did get scoring from their top-three players in this tournament with Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), Lias Andersson (New York Rangers) and Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander leading the way with seven points each. Pettersson and Andersson combined to score eleven goals for the Swedes, while Nylander was there for support with six assists.

Nylander, in his third World Juniors tournament, definitely did not put up the tournament he had expected, but he was still honored as a top-three player for Sweden throughout the tournament. His one goal and six assists go along with his 18:40 ice-time average, which was the highest average among forwards on the roster.

The 19-year old ends his World Junior run with 28 points in 21 games, tying him for fourth on Sweden's all-time scoring list for the World Juniors with his father, Michael Nylander. However, Nylander only comes away with one medal in his three tournament runs, and it was a silver medal in Buffalo.

"It takes a lot to win final games, but I think we played a pretty good game," Nylander said following the loss. "I think we controlled most of the game, but they got a lot of powerplays. We took too many penalties out there tonight, and they scored on their chances."

"He was really important for us, extraordinary," Monten added of his veteran forward. "He carried a big load, especially in the locker room. He helped out the young guys a lot. I think he was a player who stood on the front line together with Lias [Andersson] and Jacob [Moverare], and they really led this team."

Nylander will now head back to the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League, where he has two goals and six points in 15 games after returning from a lower-body injury earlier this season.

As for the Sabres' other prospect on Sweden, Marcus Davidsson put up an admirable 2018 World Junior tournament playing on the fourth line with Glenn Gustafsson and Axel Jonsson Fjallby (Washington Capitals). In seven games centering that fourth line, Davidsson scored a goal and added two assists while playing a solid shut down role and adding some offense here and there.

Davidsson will return to Sweden after this tournament to continue his season with Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League. In 23 games this season in the SHL, Davidsson has two goals and nine points.

Sweden also had the best defenseman of the tournament, as selected by the tournament Directorate. 17-year old defenseman Rasmus Dahlin became the first under-18 Swedish defenseman in tournament history to be selected as the top defenseman of the tournament. He finished his second career tournament with six assists in seven games, and led the Swedes in average ice-time at a remarkable 23:08.

This year's performance will only add to the accolades as he is projected to go as the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas.

Up next, the 2019 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship will head to Western Canada, where it will be held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.