Anders Bjork scores two, USA wins bronze
Anders Bjork scored two goals for the Americans, as did Ryan Donato and Matthew Tkachuk, who also collected an assist. Alex Nedeljkovic made 35 saves.
"We played a good game today and overall a strong tournament so it's definitely something to be proud of," Bjork said.
"I think we had a pretty good tournament, we came here to win gold, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Bronze, I guess, is the third best thing. Better than going home empty-handed," Nedeljkovic said with a laugh.
It was Sweden’s biggest margin of defeat in a medal game.
"We didn't give Felix a chance, the whole team simply folded. I don't know what happened, I just think the whole team gave up," said Swedish defenceman Marcus Pettersson.
"I don't know... don't know what to say. They were better," said his teammate Dmytro Timashov.
Team USA coach Ron Wilson and Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg had chosen different strategies as far as selecting a goaltender was concerned. Wilson sent Alex Nedeljkovic back out between the pipes while Gronborg gave the nod to backup Felix Sandstrom.
While both teams were surely disappointed after their semi-final losses, they also had no trouble finding motivational tools to get up for the bronze medal game. The Swedes, for one, could just look back at last year’s bronze medal game which they lost to Slovakia with half the team returning to this year’s tournament. They were out to redeem themselves.
"It shouldn’t be difficult at all to motivate yourself to play. It’s an honour to be able to wear the USA jersey. I was happy that we were able to come away with a win," Nedeljkovic said.
Also, it was to be the last game with the under-20 team for head coach Rikard Gronborg, who will take over the men’s national team in summer. He has been involved with the Swedish under-20 programs since 2006 when he was the team’s scout, and later team manager before becoming assistant coach in 2012. After two tournaments as an assistant, he got the head coach’s job in 2013, and led Sweden to silver in 2014, a fourth-place finish in 2015, and fourth again in 2016.
The Americans, on the other hand, have won eight of the last eleven U18 World Championships, but haven’t been able to have the same rate of success in the bigger boys’ tournament. They did win gold in 2010 and 2013, and bronze in 2007 and 2011, but didn’t want to go through a third tournament without a medal.
Team USA did take charge in the first period. About halfway through the period, they kept the puck in the Swedish zone for an extended period of time before Christian Dvorak drove to the net. Sandstrom made a save but Anders Bjork slammed in the rebound for 1-0 at 11:59.
With five minutes remaining, Matthew Tkachuk gave the Americans a two-goal lead with a nice deflection off a point shot by Zach Werenski.
The Swedes rallied back, and it took them just 55 seconds to tie the game. First defenseman William Lagesson followed up on a rush and tapped in Adrian Kempe’s rebound to make it 2-1, and then in the next shift Carl Grundstrom tied it after a nice tic-tac-toe play with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Joel Eriksson Ek at 18:34.
The Americans started the second period as strong as the first one, and before the period was five minutes old, they had reclaimed their two-goal lead. At 2:17 into the period Brock Boeser beat Sandstrom with another deflection from the doorstep, assisted by Will Borgen and Tkachuk. And just 1:49 later Brandon Carlo’s nice pass off a three-on-one found Ryan Donato all alone in front of the Swedish net, and he sent it in with one hand for 4-2.
Anders Bjork’s second goal of the game was a thing of beauty. He dangled a Swedish defenceman, and when Sandstrom tried to poke-check the puck from him, he lifted it upstairs at 16:31 into the period.
And with nine seconds remaining in the period, Brandon Carlo followed up on a 2-on-1, and he one-timed Nick Schmaltz’s pass to the back of the net, to make it 6-2. Ryan Donato scored his second of the night at 3:38 into the third period after a turnover behind the Swedish net, and Tkachuk scored his second off a two-on-rush with 8:48 remaining in the game.
"Sweden’s such a great team and they’re so sound defensively. If you told me before the game that this was going to be the score, I would say: ‘No way!’ But obviously we played really hard and it paid off," said Ryan Donato.
With 92 seconds remaining in the game, Axel Holmstrom beat Nedeljkovic with a wraparound, to make it 8-3.
"We didn't even give ourselves a chance to win, so there's no need to feel sorry for yourself. They were simply the better team tonight," Holmstrom said.
"The biggest difference from today’s game compared to the last game was that some of our bounces went in. We got some lucky bounces, and fortunately, they didn’t. That’s the way things go sometimes. It was just a fun game," Nedeljkovic concluded.
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