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Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

WJC Gold Medal Preview: Canada vs Sweden

It’s game seven for Canada at the 2017 World Junior Championships as they’ll face Sweden for the gold medal.

For the Canadians, it’s the last hurdle they’ll need to clear if they want to avenge last year’s heartbreaking defeat and as you would expect, their opponent will be their toughest test yet.

Apart from their loss to the Americans outdoors, Canada has honestly waltzed their way through this tournament, outscoring their opposition 36-10. They’ve been in control of every game and a big part of that has been the depth they have at every position.

Each game it seemed to be a different group of forwards that came through for this team, in fact, the only Canadian forward without at least three points so far is the 13th forward Tyler Steenbergen. Other than him, every forward has made a considerable impact on the scoresheet.

The depth Head Coach Dominic Ducharme has given him the luxury of rolling four lines early in the game. What that can do is wear down the opposition right off the bat and force them to take more penalties as the game continues and when Canada gets powerplays, they pull away on the scoreboard. They’re currently operating at 56.52%  on the man advantage through six games.

They should get their fair share of chances tonight as they’ll be facing a Swedish team that has spent the third most time short handed this tournament, they are however 6th in power play goals against. Let’s take a closer look at Team Sweden:

THE OPPONENT

Sweden has absolutely dominated the opening portion of this tournament for years, winning every single round-robin game they’ve played dating back to 2006. That’s 44 consecutive wins.

Lately, however, the success has stopped once they reach the medal round. They’ve lost in the bronze medal game each of the past three tournaments and haven’t won a gold since 2012. There’s a lot of pressure on this group to be the ones that finally bring back a championship.

They’ll be motivated and they’re loaded with talent. On paper, you could argue that they’re better than Canada.

Up front, they’re led by three players in particular. Alex Nylander (BUF), Lias Andersson (NYR) and Elias Pettersson were all top ten picks by their respective NHL clubs and all three of them have seven points in six games.

Like Canada, the Swedes also have some serious skill on their back end with players like Timothy Liljegren and Vegas first rounder Erik Brannstrom. The one that will steal the show, and often has, is 17-year-old Rasmus Dahlin, the consensus first overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft has made a highlight reel play after highlight reel play this entire tournament.

He’s a generational talent and I couldn’t see any flaws in his game while I watched him this tournament. Special players have a tendency to do great things during the biggest moments. Dahlin should be a game changer tonight.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  • Walk the thin line of playing aggressive and not taking penalties. If they can dominate Sweden down low and stretch out the ice, they could force them into taking more penalties and we all know how dangerous Canada’s PP is.
  • Low risk, high reward. This game will be very tight, Canada won’t be able to blow out Sweden the way they have almost every other opponent. It will be important for them to keep their game simple and not take any unnecessary offensive risks. The last thing they need is to get caught up in Sweden’s end and give their incredibly skilled forwards odd-man rushes.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Last years gold medal game was heartbreaking for everyone involved, but it was especially tough for goalie Carter Hart, who really felt the burden of the shootout loss to the Americans.

This year, you know Hart had revenge in mind and although he won’t get another crack at Team USA, you know he wants to prove that he can come through on the biggest stage.

While his numbers so far this tournament have been solid, he’s posted a 1.96 GAA and a 0.920 sv%, I think he’s looked a little shaky at times. Maybe it’s me just having nothing better to pick apart as most of the games have been blowouts, but I thought he’s given up some perimeter goals that shouldn’t have gone in. At times he’s bobbled some easy pucks as well.

I think he has another level to his game that we haven’t seen quite yet, and that’s saying something because I also believe he’s still been the best goalie at the tournament despite the flaws I’ve seen at times.

Hart is a top-notch goalie, and I’d look for him to give Canada a top-notch performance.

Canada will go for their first gold medal since 2015 tonight at 6 pm (mountain).