It seemed like the potential for a storybook ending was there from the beginning: a very strong Team Sweden hunting for an elusive gold medal on home soil. Everything went according to plan as they put together a fantastic tournament in which they steadily emerged as one of the strongest teams. Unfortunately, the fairytale was not meant to be as they instead had to settle for silver after dropping the gold medal game to Team USA with a score of 6-2.
Despite every inch of ice being hard won in this game, USA had the advantage through the first period, as they entered the first intermission up 1-0. Sweden refused to go away with their crowd behind them, tying the game at one early in the second period. Isaac Howard found the back of the net twice for the USA, who thought they would enter the second intermission up by two. But Sweden found a power play tally with seconds remaining in the second to make it 3-2. Sweden was unable to gain any ground in the third, and USA would eventually claim the game 6-2.
Sweden Had a Great Tournament
The pure skill of some of the players on Sweden’s roster became increasingly evident as the tournament progressed, and by the end of it, Sweden found many of their players at the top of the leaderboards and all over the All-Star teams. Hugo Havelid, the so-called undersized netminder, was unanimously named the best goaltender of the tournament by both the media and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Axel Sandin Pellikka joined him as the best defender of the tournament on the IIHF’s list, while Theo Lindstein (defense) and Jonathan Lekkerimaki (forward) joined him on the media’s top players list.
While some of the best players in the tournament belonged to Sweden, many also belonged to Team USA. The makeup of that US team may go down as one of the deepest and most potent rosters in the history of the tournament. There was not a single player on their roster that isn’t going to end up in the NHL. Sweden may have ended up with the tournament MVP in Lekkerimaki, but there was definitely more than one option on USA that could have also claimed the award.
There was no obvious flaw in Sweden’s game. All of the positives that carried them through the tournament held true for this game, from the solid goaltending to the balanced attack and the active blue line. Everything was there, with the only real difference being their opponent. The undefeated Team USA was simply slightly better in the small areas, like winning puck battles, and throughout the game, it gave them the edge they needed to wear down and eventually beat Sweden.
Future of Team Sweden
With the 2024 edition of the World Junior Championship, there is nothing left to do except start looking forward to the 2025 edition. Sweden will be losing a lot of their big guns from this tournament as they age out or, in some cases, join the NHL club that drafted them. It is likely the last time we see the trio of Lekkerimaki, Noah Ostlund, and Liam Ohgren together on one roster, as they all look primed to begin long NHL careers. All is not lost, though, as some very strong pieces can return to try to improve on their silver against a USA team that will also see a large number of returnees.
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On the back end, their backup goaltender, Melker Thelin, should have a pretty straight shot at becoming the starter after some very good performances this year. He will have some different defencemen in front of him, but both Axel Sandin Pellikka and Tom Willander are eligible to return. They will likely be joined by the entire third line of David Edstrom, Otto Stenberg, and Felix Unger Sorum, who will have a much bigger role. Those players who are continuing in their careers can move on knowing they are leaving the team in very good hands.