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Sports U-18 World Championship Roundup: And Then There Was Four

08:00  04 may  2021
08:00  04 may  2021 Source:   si.com

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USA won't compete for a medal for the first time since 2003, while Canada, Russia and Finland all advance. The final four is ready to go in Texas.

Swedes End USA's Longstanding Medal Run

Sweden's tournament to date has been far from perfect, but they were good when they needed to and stopped an American team bringing in momentum on home ice, with Tre Kronor escaping with a 5-2 victory.

The loss means USA will not contend for a medal for the first time since 2003, back before most of this team was even born. In that time, USA has won nine of their 10 gold medals, four silvers and three bronze medals. Sweden will look to continue their own streak, having won gold in the last iteration of the tournament in 2019 and bronze the year prior.

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Special teams proved to be an important part in the game, with both teams taking three penalties in the opening period of play. Swedish defender Mattias Havelid was the only one who could capitalize on the opportunity when, at 3:09, wrister from the right circle beat Kaidan Mbereko glove side for the 1-0 goal.

It took a bit of time, but USA answered back on a power play of their own. Nearly all five Americans touched the puck, but at 33:00, Sasha Pastujov was the one who pot one to the left of Carl Lindbom to make it 1-1. USA looked fired up, but Fabian Lysell stole their energy by going end-to-end at high speed before wrapping around the net and banking the puck off of USA defender Roman Schmidt, putting Sweden back in the lead.

USA was put in a tough position for the second time in the tournament when Mbereko went down with another injury, this time to his left leg after making a save. Mbereko was pulled against the Czech Republic after tweaking his right leg making a stop, but would later return after a few minutes of action for Gibson Homer, who once again would see time in the net.

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Lysell wasn't done having fun. At 41:26, Lysell took a pass from Liam Dower Nilsson and came in at a high speed, scoring on a wrist shot to make it 3-1 on the first dangerous chance against Homer.

The game wasn't over just yet. On the power play, Oliver Moberg scored on a scramble in front at 54:25 to give Sweden a three-goal lead. But USA bounced back with a goal with two minutes to go when Red Savage got hte puck out from a scramble in front to make it 4-2 – giving USA a bit of life late. They would get a couple more opportunities, but Isak Rosen would score with three seconds left to go to put a cap on USA's 16-year medal run at the U-18 World Hockey Championship.

Early Goals Enough as Canada Downs Czechs

Canada reached double digits for the second time in Texas after beating the Czech Republic 10-3 on Monday in Frisco, Tx.

One of the last things you want to do is trail early against Team Canada, who went a perfect 4-0 in the round robin. The Czechs found that out early when, at 2:01, Wyatt Johnston converted on a pass from Connor Bedard after the 16-year-old chipped the puck in front of the net for the 1-0 goal.

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Just 2:19 later, Conner Roulette would double the scoring on the third shot of the game when he took the puck off a Czech defender and beat goaltender Tomas Suchanek for the 2-0 lead. Suchanek's night would after allowing three goals on four shots when Bedard got one of his own, tipping in Danny Zhilkin's shot for the 3-0 marker at just 6:50 in the opening stanza.

The Czechs would finally answer back at 8:31. After sustained effort on the team's first power-play of the game, Lukas Pajer would slam a shot past Benjamin Gaudreau after taking Jakub Brabenec's pass across the ice. But two minutes after that, Logan Stankoven finished off Canada's hot period with the 4-1 goal, taking Bedard's pass and beating new Czech goaltender Oliver Satny to give Canada a three-goal advantage.

Canada wasn't done just yet. Just 69 seconds into the middle period, Dylan Guenther finished off a passing play between Bedard and Shane Wright to make it 5-1 on the power play, but Jaroslav Chmelar would answer back two minutes after that to make it 5-2.

Things started to get a bit out of hand in the third period. Jaroslav Chmelar would make it 5-2 after the puck bounced off of Nolan Allen in front of the net to 5-2, giving the Czechs a bit of life late in the game. Gabriel Szturc scored one late, but goals from Brennan Othmann, Ryan Winterton, Brett Harrison and a second from Bedard capped off a massive 10-3 win for the Canadians, their second-biggest win of the event.

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Finland Shuts Out Switzerland to Advance

Aku Koskenvuo made a 23-save shutout and Samu Salminen scored the game-winner as Finland was able to snag a 2-0 win over a Swiss team that never gave up.

It took 39:56 of play for the first goal to be scored. Salminen potted one on the always-effective power-play by Finland Samu Tuomaala waited and waited to find the open lane and eventually took a shot through traffic with time not on his side. Salminen was there to knock in the rebound to make it 1-0 ahead of the second intermission.

It was a tough moment for Swiss goaltender Kevin Pasche, who, up until that point, had 17 stops in an impressive effort in the Swiss net. At the other end, Koskenvuo was holding strong with 19 stops himself, keeping the game tight.

The third period could have gone either way, but Finland would add another to put things away. With under 10 minutes to go, Aleksi Heimosalmi took the puck from his own zone and scored on an end-to-end rush, beating Pasche for the 2-0 goal. Switzerland had some late changes, but Finland locked down the zone and kept things out of the net, ending Switzerland's tournament a few days early.

It was a tough loss for the Swiss, who had six goals in five games - highlighted by four against Latvia in the opening game of the tournament. Finland will now play Russia for a shot at the gold medal game, with both teams sitting tied for second in the all-time medal race with 11 each.

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Belarus' Run Ends at the Hands of Russia

Belarus was one of the best stories of the tournament, scoring a pair of wins and always putting up a fight. But that battle came to an early end on Monday, as Russia managed to move on with a 5-2 victory on Monday afternoon.

It didn't take long for Russia to get on the board. After deciding to not go for his second lacrosse goal of the tournament, 2023 draft phenom Matvei Michkov still managed to score his 10th goal of the tournament after dancing around a couple of Belarusian defenders before beating Tikhon Chaika by the right pad to make it 1-0. Belarus would outshoot Russia in the short-term after, but a power-play goal by Danila Yurov with five minutes to go in the opening period doubled Russia's advantage heading into the first break.

After Artyom Duda scored 2:48 into the second, Belarus began to find some life. At 27:55, Ilya Morozov would put his nation on the board Miroslav Mikhalyov made a nice pass through the legs on the goal line to Morozov, who was there to put in a quick snapper to make it 3-1. Less than four minutes later, Fyodor Nikolayenya would get one of his own after Ivan Anoshko won the faceoff, passed it behind a Russian defender and found Nikolayenya for the 3-2 goal.

Unfortunately, a couple of mistakes put Belarus too far behind in the third. At 6:23 in the third, Ivan Miroshnichenko would skate in with a full head of steam and took a shot on Chaika, which was blocked. But Miroschnichenko, a 2022 draft prospect, was there to grab his own rebound and made it 4-2 with an up-high shot. Vsevolod Gaidamak would add another for Russia after a terrible giveaway by Belarusian defender Maxim Sushinski and beat a surprised Chaika with a quick move to make it 5-2, a score that would stick for the rest of the game.

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Three Stars

1. Connor Bedard, F (CAN): He didn't want fellow 2023 draft prospect Michkov to take the spotlight, so he scored two goals and three assists to give him nine points in the tournament.

2. Fabian Lysell, F (SWE): Consecutive goals put Sweden out of reach of the United States. An outstanding tournament for the projected first-round prospect.

3. Aku Koskenvuo, G (FIN): Gets a big 23-shutout in a tight game that could have gone either way.

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Wednesday's Semifinal Matchups:

Canada vs. Sweden - 5:00 PM ET

Finland vs Russia - 9:00 PM ET

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