2024 IIHF World Junior Championship

USA Hockey Vs. Sweden: 2024 World Juniors Gold Medal Game Preview

USA Hockey Vs. Sweden: 2024 World Juniors Gold Medal Game Preview

Team USA will meet Sweden in the gold-medal championship game at the 2024 WJC in the latest chapter of a budding international rivalry.

Jan 5, 2024 by Chris Peters

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – It all comes down to this. The 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship has reached its final stage as host Sweden will take on Team USA for the gold medal. These were the two best teams throughout the tournament and now there’s one game to determine who was best of all.

The U.S. is unbeaten in tournament play thus far, but faced its toughest game yet in the semifinal, overcoming a 2-0 deficit after the first period to win 3-2 on a late goal by Cutter Gauthier (PHI). 

Sweden has one shootout loss – to Finland – in the tournament and is otherwise unblemished. They rode a big third period against Czechia in the semifinal to earn a 5-2 win and a spot in the final on home ice.

A sold-out crowd is expected for the tournament finale, creating a wild environment with the tournament hosts drawing near capacity crowds for every game so far at the Scandinavium. It should be quite the scene and a very interesting game.

Here is what you need to know about today’s gold medal game.

When Is The 2024 World Juniors Gold-Medal Game?

Team USA and Sweden will square off Friday, Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m. local time, 1:30 p.m. ET, at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden.

How Can I Watch The 2024 World Juniors Gold Medal Game?

The gold-medal game will air live in the United States on NHL Network, while TSN will broadcast the game in Canada. The game will also stream on TSN’s digital platform in Canada.

There’s History And Bad Blood Between These Teams

When it comes to rivalries, few think of USA and Sweden as one, but it has certainly become one. Especially at the U20 and U18 levels. 

Many of the players on both teams played in either the 2022 World Men’s Under-18 Championship or the 2023 U18s, and some played in both. Sweden won the gold in 2022, stalling a dominant U.S. team in their bid to win their final game of their NTDP careers. USA won the gold last year, with Ryan Leonard (WSH) scoring in overtime and Trey Augustine (DET) playing sensationally well.

“We don’t like those guys over there,” USA captain Rutger McGroarty (WPG) after his team advanced through the semifinal. “We’re making it personal, it’s going to be an emotional game.”

McGroarty is one of the many 2004-born players on this team that experienced the heartbreak of the 2022 World Men’s Under-18 final. And they have certainly not forgotten. 

This is the final chance for the 2004s to win the elusive gold medal as they’d fallen short in multiple tournaments before this one going back to the Youth Olympics when they were U16 players.

These two teams also met in the pre-tournament in Angelholm, Sweden. USA won that contest 5-3 in a game they mostly dominated. But it’s a very different story with the gold medal on the line.

Sweden Has Looked Great At WJC

There is no question the two best teams in this tournament are playing in the final game. Sweden didn’t allow a goal over their first three games of the tournament and has had to battle some adversity in the medal round.

The Swedes have an especially strong D corps led by Axel Sandin Pellikka (DET), a solid goalie in Hugo Havelid and a forward group that has the skill to make a lot of plays. Jonathan Lekkerimaki (VAN) took over in the semifinal and scored multiple big goals for his team when they needed him most.

This is a team that can defend well, not allowing much through the middle. They’re a more physical team than we’re used to seeing from Sweden in this event as they have defenders that can throw their weight around and bigger forwards that find ways to get to the interior.

The speed and skill of Sweden's forward group is going to present a new challenge for USA's defense. They had to adjust to how hard Finland forechecked and disrupted them in the defensive zone. Once that adjustment was made, however, USA was able to dominate possession. That is unlikely going to be as easy against this Swedish team.

Team USA will certainly be facing their biggest challenge against this team.

Finding A Way

Team USA hadn’t had many games like their semifinal. They hadn’t trailed for much of the World Juniors in general and had to dig deep to break open the scoring against the Finns.

Star players stepped up in that game, with Jimmy Snuggerud (STL) getting a key power-play goal in the second period before the two highest draft picks on the team – Will Smith (SJS) and Gauthier – got the other two goals needed to win.

The U.S. also got a very strong goaltending performance out of Trey Augustine (DET), who is expected to start against Sweden, though that has not yet been confirmed.

The Americans will likely shorten up their bench on the blue line with a heavy dose of shifts for top pairing Lane Hutson (MTL) and Ryan Chesley (WSH). Both played 25-plus minutes against Finland. Seamus Casey (NJD) also played over 20 minutes against Finland and should expect to see a good amount against Sweden as well. No other defender played more than 17 minutes in the game.

The U.S. will also likely lean more heavily on the forward lines of McGroarty, Gauthier and Snuggerud, and Frank Nazar (CHI), Gavin Brindley (CBJ) and Isaac Howard (TBL). Those two lines saw heavier rotation in the semifinal and also represent USA’s most experienced forward units.

Other News And Notes

  • Cutter Gauthier (PHI) enters the gold-medal game as the tournament's leading scorer. He has 12 points including two goals and 10 assists.
  • Jonathan Lekkerimaki (VAN) is Sweden's leading scorer and tied for second in the tournament with nine points, including six goals which is tied with USA's Gavin Brindley (CBJ) for the tournament lead.
  • Of the players playing in the gold-medal game, Lane Hutson (MTL) is the time-on-ice leader with an average of 23:24 per game.
  • Hugo Havelid and Trey Augustine (DET) are the top two goaltenders in the tournament by save percentage. Havelid is No. 1 with a .952 mark, while Augustine is second with a .940 save percentage. Both goalies have won each of their starts to date.

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