International Ice Hockey Federation

Canadians top Sweden

Canadians top Sweden

Lafreniere OT hero, Canada to face Czechs in QF

Published 24.04.2018 23:51 GMT+5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Canadians top Sweden
MAGNITOGORSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 23: Sweden's Fredrik Granberg #2 and Olof Lindbom #1 look on as Canada's Alexis Lafreniere #11 celebrates Raphael Lavoie #25 (not shown) goal during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Alexis Lafreniere scored in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 win over Sweden and first place in Group A. Canada faces the Czechs in the quarter-finals on Thursday.

Defenceman Ryan Merkley, who totalled two assists, slid the puck from the center point to Lafreniere, who was alone in front and put home his own rebound at 2:27.

"I think it’s a team win," said Lafreniere. "We worked hard. We didn’t have the start we wanted, but we found a way to get the win, so that’s nice."

Looking ahead to the Czechs, captain Ty Smith said: "I think the key is just to come out fast like we did tonight. We have to respect them. They have lots of firepower and they’re unpredictable. I’m sure they’ll be playing their best game. We just need to listen to our coaches and execute what they tell us to do."

In regulation, Chase Wouters and Raphael Lavoie scored for Canada. Defenceman Adam Boqvist had both goals for Sweden, which came second in the group. The Swedes will face Slovakia in the quarter-finals.

"I think it’ll be a tough game," said Swedish goalie Olof Lindbom. "They are a good team. I think we’re going to have the momentum in the game. Let’s see! We’re ready."

Canada has won four straight games, while Sweden suffered its first loss of the tournament. But no one's dwelling on that with the do-and-die games looming.

"We know that every time we play the Czechs, they’re a competitive group," said Canadian coach Don Hay. "You have to respect everybody you play and you can’t take anybody lightly. I think when you get down to one-game type of situations, you have to be at your best. We want to have a day tomorrow where we prepare for the Czechs and get our rest and recovery, and then go out and play our best game of the tournament against them."

The other quarter-finals feature Russia versus the United States and Finland versus Belarus.

This gritty defensive battle featured a fine goaltending duel between Lindbom and Canada's Olivier Rodrigue. Canada outshot the Swedes 40-31.

The two teams set a fierce tempo from the outset, but Canada ran into early penalty woes, and it was Sweden that cashed in on a 4-on-4 at 10:27. Samuel Fagemo left a sneaky drop pass for Jacob Olofsson, who found Bogvist coming late, and he whizzed the puck over Rodrigue’s glove from the left faceoff circle.

"He’s a really dynamic player and he’s very fast," Lindbom said of Boqvist. "He has an unbelievable shot."

In the second period, Canada kept coming, undaunted. Just after a Canadian power play had expired, Dellandrea dropped the puck to Lavoie at the top of the left faceoff circle, and he one-timed his team-leading fifth goal past Lindbom low to the stick side to make it 1-1 at 6:39.

Both teams mounted flurries late in the second, Canada’s coming with Swedish captain Adam Ginning in the box for tripping for the last two minutes. But no one could find the range.

On a Swedish turnover, Lavoie had a fabulous chance to put Canada up at the start of the third, but Lindbom stoned him on the doorstep with the left pad.

Canada took a 2-1 lead at 8:15 on a goal off the rush that combined finesse and determination. Crossing the blue line, Merkley accepted a pass from Lafreniere and found Wouters going to the net for the backhanded tip.

"I think he’s a great defenceman," Joe Veleno said of Merkley. "One of his strengths is finding guys in the open areas and making those kinds of passes that not too many guys can do."

Lindbom sparkled with a blocker save on a pinching Kevin Bahl to keep it a one-goal game with under seven minutes left in regulation.

As Sweden pushed, the Canadians blocked shots ferociously down the stretch. The Smakronorna had a golden opportunity for the equalizer with a late 4-on-3 power play and they capitalized at 18:26. Boqvist's centre point shot caught a stick and knocked Rodrigue's water bottle off as the Swedes celebrated the 2-2 marker.

"We showed great character coming back late in the third there," said Ginning. "We’re not happy with the result, but we played a good game and we’ll take that with us."

Rodrigue stoned Boqvist in the first minute of overtime. Seconds later, Sweden's Jonatan Berggren was called for tripping, and Canada secured victory with the man advantage.

This has been a remarkably even U18 rivalry over the years. Canada’s victory gives it an all-time edge of eight wins to seven. The Swedes eliminated Canada from gold-medal contention in the 2016 semi-finals and the 2017 quarter-finals. However, Canada has three U18 gold medals all-time to none for Sweden.

Now it's showtime as these young men truly begin to forge their reputations on the international stage.

"Sweden really pushed us, and I think we did the same for them," said Smith. "Heading into quarters, it’s do-or-die. You have to win. I think a game like tonight really gets us ready and should have us on top of our game for the quarter-finals."

 

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