EDMONTON, AB – Heavy underdogs against a hockey powerhouse on home ice, Spencer Knight and his United States teammates snatched away gold for the red, white and blue.
Knight made 34 saves in yet another shutout and Team USA upset Canada 2-0 on Tuesday night to win the world junior hockey championship.
Tournament MVP Trevor Zegras had a goal and an assist, and Alex Turcotte also scored as the U.S. won its first gold medal at the event since 2017.
United States players poured over the bench when the buzzer sounded, tossing sticks and gloves aloft in a mostly empty Rogers Place. The tournament was played with no fans in the stands to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The winners linked up and swayed with delight on the blue line, lustily singing their national anthem as the American flag rose to the rafters. The Canadians, many with their heads down, leaned on their sticks and contemplated what might have been.
Coming into the game, Canada had outscored its opponents 41-4 and never trailed. The dominant Canadians were aiming to repeat as gold-medal winners, but had to settle for second place in their own country.
Canada captain Bowen Byram had tears in his eyes as he handed out the silver medals to his teammates.
“I think we surprised them in the first two periods with how well we played below their hashmarks,” Zegras said.
“You could tell they hadn’t seen that kind of ground game from any other team in the tournament. We got a couple of quick goals early in those periods and from there we just kind of put it on shutdown mode and played great defense.”
The U.S., which finished sixth in 2020, won six straight games to capture its fifth under-20 title following a round-robin loss to Russia on opening day.
The Americans improved to 4-1 against Canada when going head-to-head for gold at the tournament.
Finland defeated Russia 4-1 earlier Tuesday to win bronze.
Knight, a 2019 top draft pick by the Florida Panthers, earned his third shutout of the tournament, tying the record set by Canada’s Devon Levi this year and Justin Pogge in 2006.
Zegras, a first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2019, was the top scorer with seven goals and 11 assists.
Knight was spectacular at times, particularly when the Canadians stormed and buzzed the net late in the second period and came in waves in the third.
He stoned Connor McMichael on a breakaway with three minutes left, prompting the Canadian player to slam his stick on the glass in frustration.
Levi, a seventh-round pick of the Panthers last year, made 19 saves. Dylan Cozens led Canada with eight goals and eight assists in the tournament.
“We lost the gold medal game," Cozens said. "We feel horrible."
The U.S. dropped its opener 5-3 to Russia before running the table, outscoring opponents 36-10.
Team USA forechecked ferociously in the first period, outshot Canada 13-9 and opened the scoring at 13:25 when Turcotte deflected Drew Helleson's point shot up and over Levi’s glove.
The Americans made it 2-0 just 32 seconds into the second after Arther Kaliyev fired the puck past the net. Zegras grabbed it off the end boards and tucked it in on the short side while Levi, expecting the puck to come out the other side, was moving in the opposite direction to cover the far post.
“We didn’t have the start we wanted. They got up on us and we just couldn’t buy a couple of goals there," Byram said.
“We’re still very proud of our group and how we played throughout the tournament.”
When it was over, U.S. players gathered for a commemorative photo at center ice and included a blue barrel emblazoned with the Hockey Canada logo. The barrel, they said, represented their mindset — never looking past the next barrel or marker on their way to gold.
Cozens was asked if the Canadians didn't face enough adversity early in the tournament and weren't ready when the United States tested them.
“Our group faced lots of adversity,” he said. “With the COVID testing we had in camp, we had to quarantine for 14 days.
“Obviously, we played great through all the games. And then we ran into a team like this. They were good.”
In the earlier game, Anton Lundell had two goals to help Finland win the bronze medal.
Mikko Petman and Juuso Parssinen also scored for Finland, and Kari Piroinen made 29 saves.
Ilya Safonov had the lone goal for Russia. Yaroslav Askarov stopped 28 of 30 shots.
Lundell and Parssinen secured the victory for Finland with empty-net goals late in the third.
It was just the second time in 11 tournaments that Russia — which last won gold in 2011 and grabbed silver last year — finished off the podium.
Finland lost the bronze-medal game to Sweden last year after winning gold in 2019.