Canada advances to U18 semifinals with victory over Sweden
Canada is rounding into form at the right time, dispatching Sweden 5-3 and advancing to the semi-finals at the 2015 IIHF U18 World Championship.
The victory sets up an all-North American semi-final matchup, as the United States defeated the Czech Republic in the first quarter-final game earlier in the day.
The Canadians held a 4-2 lead going into the third period, thanks to a pair of goals from captain Mitchell Stephens and scores from Jansen Harkins and Deven Sideroff.
“We’ve found a lot of team chemistry with our four lines,” said Stephens. “We’re getting better everyday and that’s what our coach has been stressing every day, to get better as we move forward to the medal round.”
A bad stroke of luck late in the third almost spelled disaster for the Canadians, when goaltender Zach Sawchenko left his net for the extra attacker with a delayed penalty call on Sweden’s Carl Grundstrom. With the Canadains on the attack, a pass attempt to Canada defencemen Evan Bear at the Swedish blueline went wide, crossed the ice and ended up in the empty Canadian net to trim Canada’s lead to 4-3.
But an improbably comeback was averted on the ensuing power play. Forward Graham Knott scored his first goal of the tournament, giving Canada a 5-3 lead with four minutes to go. Sawchenko held the Swedes off the rest of the way, sending Canada to the semi-finals.
“At first I didn’t know we pulled our goalie, then I tried to get back but I was too slow and it went in,” said Bear. “It was unfortunate but we bounced back and got a goal on the power play.”
Sweden fell behind 1-0 early, when defenceman Jacob Larsson allowed Harkins break loose into the Swedish zone. Harkins calmly slotted it in with a shot through the goalie’s five-hole giving Canada the 1-0 lead just over five minutes into the first period.
Then Canada went up 2-0 two minutes later with a great passing play that ended on the stick of Mitchell Stephens. Matt Barzal gained possession in the Swedish zone behind the goal line, and passed in front to Graham Knott coming down the slot. Knott waited patiently with the puck before delivering at the last second a backhand pass across the crease to Stephens, who slotted it home.
The Swedes cut the lead to 2-1 after Deven Sideroff was called for a penalty. On the power play Lucas Carlsson’s shot from the point found its way past Sawchenko. Sideroff made amends though with 34 seconds left in the first, getting the puck in front of the Swedish net and making a smart play by adjusting his stick and shooting the puck from between his legs to get it through the legs of Swedish goaltender Felix Sandstrom.
Sweden crept back to within a goal in the second period. When the team was playing short-handed a lapse by the Canadian defence resulted in forward Joel Eriksson Ek stealing the puck away and beating Sawchenko with a forehand deke to cut the lead to 3-2.
But Canada again gave itself a two-goal cushion thanks to Stephens, who got space in the high slot area and got off a shot into the top left corner of the goal with 2:37 left in the second period. Sawchenko shut the door on the Swedes the rest of the way (having technically not been on the ice for the late empty net goal by Sweden) as Canada sealed its fifth straight trip to the U18 Worlds semi-final.
The Canadians, who are undefeated in five games now at the 2015 U18 Worlds, now have a big matchup coming up on Saturday against defending champions the United States. The game will be Canada’s toughest test yet; the U.S. has officially recovered from a 3-2 loss in their opening game to Russia and has outscored its opponents to the tune of 37-9.
“For them it’ll be a bit different playing another North American team than playing a European team, same as for us,” said head coach Tim Hunter. “It’ll be a bit more what we’re used to playing and it should be some great hockey.”