Early Saturday morning here in the states, 12 hours behind Ufa, Russia, the site of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, Team USA faced off against Team Sweden and for the second time in four years, the Americans won the gold medal, defeating the defending champion Swedes by a score of 3-1.
Absent for most of the tournament, outside of his signature annoyance, University of North Dakota freshman and Florida Panthers prospect, Rocco Grimaldi, put the team on the shoulders of his 5’6” frame and scored the game tying and winning goals, both in the second frame.
The first period was back and forth and was a display of the speed, skill and size that both teams possessed. Sweden’s goaltender Niklas Lundstrom and United States’ net minder John Gibson both made highlight reel saves to keep each other’s team empty handed heading into the first intermission. Despite only having 18 shots between them, it’s the quality of shots that came through which made for a very entertaining period. The period ended, however with a very “ticky-tacky” goaltender interference call against Cornell University forward, Cole Bardreau.
The second period began with Sweden finishing off the second half of their initial power play. It didn’t take long for them to sneak a puck past Gibson, when at the 1:09 mark, Sandburg found the back of the net, giving Sweden the 1-0 lead. That seemed to wake up the Americans as they began to control the pace of the game with hard hits and winning puck battles in the corners. More importantly, they were getting skaters in front of Lundstrom, a strategy that not only worked against the Canadians in the semi-finals match, but ultimately led to the pulling of Canada’s goalie, Malcolm Subban.
Finally, after all the hard work and the pestering and the benching against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, Grimaldi scored what had to be the greatest goal of his young career at the 7:42 mark of the second. Fending off the tenacious forecheck of the Swedes, Grimaldi rounded the Swedish net and threw a prayer (no pun intended, as Rocco is very open with his Christian faith) at the net and the puck found the smallest of space between Lundstrom’s right hip and the post.
Not even three minutes later, Rocco found himself in a very familiar spot: in the low slot, right in the face of the Swede’s goalie. Having his lower lumbar massaged by a Swedish defenseman, Grimaldi held his ice and at 10:27, US defensive superstar, and power play master, Jacob Trouba (Univ. Michigan and Winnipeg Jets 1st round pick from last year) reared back one of his patented slap shots and the puck caromed off Grimaldi and redirected past Lundstrom to give the Americans their first lead and what would ultimately be the winning goal.
The third period belonged to Kitchener Rangers and Anaheim Ducks prospect goalie, John Gibson. Only having to make eight saves, Gibson had to make some of the best saves of the tournament as Sweden’s captain, Filip Forsberg had several good looks. The icing on the cake came from the stick of Vince Trocheck as he pushed the puck into the open net with just 16 seconds remaining. The goal would have been award even if in the odd chance he missed the net as a Swedish back checker unable to catch up to Trocheck threw his stick in an attempt to deflect the puck, which in an open net scenario results in an automatic awarding of a goal.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players and staff,” head coach, Phil Housley said after the game. The Americans never gave up, even when things took a desperate feel after dropping consecutive 2-1 decisions to the Canadians and host Russian team in the preliminary round.
In the end, John Gibson was named Best Goaltender and MVP of the tournament and Jacob Trouba was named the tournament’s best defenseman. In all, the Americans continued to display the epic rise of significance in the world of international hockey. In fact, several of the players including Grimaldi and Plano’s Seth Jones celebrated their 3rd IIHF gold medal, having won U-17, U-18 and U-20 top-honors.