UFA, Russia—Sweden went into the final of the 2013 International Ice Hockey World Junior Championships January 5 against an upstart U.S. team with one plan in mind: no “miracles.”
Before the game, Tre Kronor players posed with copies of the Swedish newspaper Expressen, which had the headline, “No More Miracles For You!” an allusion to the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” when Team USA beat the mighty Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics. Just as they did in 1980, however, the U.S. swept past a higher-ranked opponent for the gold medal. And, once again for the Americans, it was a feisty Italian-American who led the way.
North Dakota University star Rocco Grimaldi played the role of “miracle” captain Mike Eruzione, scoring twice to lead the U.S. to the gold. Grimaldi, who had been held goalless till the final, picked the perfect time to break out with his pair in the second period. Vince Trocheck scored into an empty net in the final minute.
Filip Sandberg scored for Sweden, whose reign as World Champion has ended after one year.
"Right now, it feels terrible," said Swedish captain Filip Forsberg. "Hopefully it might feel better in a couple weeks."
Just as in the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship final, American goalie John Gibson—the tournament MVP, Best Goaltender and all-star goalie—out-dueled his Swedish counterpart Niklas Lundström. The U.S. out shot Sweden 34-27.
Although Swedish coach Roger Rönnberg was unable to finish his career behind the U20 national team's bench on a winning note, the Swedish program is faring well with medals at five out of the last six World Juniors.
"The U.S. was the better team," said Rönnberg. "They deserved to win and they are the true champions."
The Swedes surprised many observers with their overachieving performance in Ufa despite missing key players like forward Mika Zibanejad (the overtime hero in Calgary 2012) and defensemen Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, Hampus Lindholm and Jesper Pettersson.
"We had a young team here," Rönnberg said. "They really have done what they could, but I still think we could have found a way to take this game to overtime. But the U.S. was better today."
The tournament had something of a surreal feel to it. With the NHL still on hold due to a lock out, there wasn't sense that this tournament was an open audition for a major contract as past tournaments have been. Instead, the focus was on hockey and neither disappointed the 6,000 fans that packed the Ufa Arena.
After a scoreless first period, Sweden opened the scoring on the power play at 1:08 of the second. U.S. defenseman Seth Jones bobbled the puck in his skates in front of his own net and it bounced to Filip Sandberg, who whipped it high over Gibson’s glove.
Grimaldi made it 1-1 at 7:42, coming off the goal line and firing a bad-angle shot that surprised a kneeling Lundström, squeaking between his body and the right post.
The Americans went up 2-1 less than three minutes later, as Grimaldi deflected home Jacob Trouba’s right point shot. With under five minutes left in the middle frame, Gibson denied Forsberg from the slot after a Shayne Gostisbehere turnover deep in the U.S. zone.
Early in the third period, Gibson foiled Victor Arvidsson's dangerous wraparound attempt with his right pad. The Swedes upped their pressure in the late stages of the third. Sandberg came close with a shot that bounced up off Gibson and over the crossbar as he bumped into the netminder with 1:50 left.
"We did everything we could in the third," said Swedish defenseman Alexander Wennberg.
Sweden will have a chance to rebound next year at home when Malmo plays host to the tournament.