GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Late in the third period, as the lead swelled to three and then four goals, Rutger McGroarty and Ryan Leonard bid farewell to the sold-out Scandinavia crowd.
With 31 seconds left, bad blood boiled over at center ice, as 5-foot-9 Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson threw punches at 6-foot-4 Red Wings prospect Anton Johansson.
It was the culmination of a moment that had been years in the making, and an exhale for an American group of teenagers who had talked it into existence.
For two years, the USA’s 2004 age group has talked about goaltender Hugo Hvelid and Sweden getting revenge on the star who cost them the gold medal at the 2022 Under-18 World Championships in Germany.
At that time, the Americans defeated Sweden 51–15 and still lost 6–4. On Thursday, setting the stage, they promised they would write a different story in their gold medal rematch at the World Juniors.
On Friday, in Gothenburg, they fulfilled their promise with a 6–2 win.
Early on, it looked like history might repeat itself.
On one end, the duo of Sabers first-rounder Noah Ostlund and Canucks first-rounder Jonathan Lekkerimäki created the first few scoring chances of the game: Ostlund, Lekkerimäki headed in a scramble a few minutes later that sat at the goal line, And then Ostlund, dancing fast on the game’s first power play.
At the other end, the crowd, which was standing, was jumping, clapping and chanting, “Hoo-go!” Was raising slogans. The first time he stopped Islanders prospect Quinn Finley on a breakaway with 4:37 left in the first period.
Ultimately, however, the Americans broke through the crowd’s silence for the first time with 3:04 left in the first period, as the Sharks’ first-round pick Will Smith threw a slap-pass to Rangers first-rounder Gabe Perreault on a backdoor pass. hit with. Delayed penalty.
It was McGroarty, the ’04 captain and Jets first-rounder who had talked about unfinished business and mutual hatred between the two teams 24 hours earlier, who drew a penalty and got a secondary assist on a cross-ice pass to Smith. . ,
In the second, it was another ’04, this time as Lightning first-rounder Isaac Howard tied the Swedes on a tip from the Blues’ Otto Stenberg, who pounced for a breakaway and beat Hvallid by five-holes to take the lead. Was done. The Americans supported the advance.
and Howard, again and again – and again five-hole – who later beat Havilid on a bad-angle shot to extend the United States’ lead to 3–1.
And then McGroarty, who entered late in the frame, leveled a layup past the Hurricanes’ Felix Unger Sorum in open ice inside the offensive zone — and later sealed it into the empty net.
“Hey, we’re the world champions, how much better than that?” McGroarty said when it was over, drenched in sweat and with a gold medal around his neck. “We knew this would be our last chance. I don’t know if I’ll ever wear a USA Hockey jersey again. It’s a sad feeling, but at least we’re coming out on top.”
The win gave USA Hockey its sixth gold medal at the World Juniors, tying it with Finland for the third-most championships at the under-20 level.
But it was more than that.
“It’s beautiful. It feels good. It feels really good,” McGroarty said when asked how revenge feels. “It’s surreal. I mean, who doesn’t love being the villain? Swedish The fans turned out to be incredible. It was probably the most fun game I’ve ever had in my life.”
A day earlier, alternate captain and Flyers first-rounder Cutter Gauthier had said that he “dreamed nothing more than to beat these guys on their home field after snatching the gold medal from our necks”.
He snatched it back.
Hutson said: “Like I said the other day, wow, this really helps us. It felt like we had played together for five years, that’s how strong this group has become. …To get that revenge is definitely special.
(Photo: Christine Muschi/The Canadian Press via AP)