Bedard the Magic Man as Canada Crushes Sweden
You've heard the hype: Connor Bedard is looking like a future NHL superstar, and his hat-trick performance was vital in Canada's 8-1 victory over Sweden to advance to the gold medal game in Texas.
The win marks Canada's first appearance in the championship contest at the U-18s since 2013 when Connor McDavid was the star of the show two years prior to going No. 1 to Edmonton at the NHL draft. Canada is the only team with a perfect record after posting a 6-0-0 run to date.
Sweden, meanwhile, will not defend their title from 2019, but will have a shot at winning a medal for the fourth time in the past five tournaments. Sweden allowed 20 goals and scored just two in two contests against Canada, but they'll have a chance to win bronze for the fifth time in tournament history.
Bedard got things going in the second period with a solid effort at 3:50. After failing to score on a lacrosse attempt earlier in the game, Bedard took the puck at center ice and beat all five Swedish defenders to break in on a shot, beating Carl Lindbom up high for the 1-0 goal.
But Sweden answered back less than two minutes later. In a rare moment where two Canadian players took penalties on the same play, Isak Rosen made him pay with a one-time goal off of a Fabian Lysell feed, beating Benjamin Gaudreau for the team's only marker of the contest.
From there, Canada took over. Chase Stillman scored with nine seconds remaining when he was stopped originally, but then skated around the net and tucked it home on the left post to give Canada its second lead of the game – and, unbeknownst to everyone else, the game-winning marker.
It didn't take long for Bedard to score his second of the game. Just 45 seconds into the period, Bedard broke into the zone with speed and despite having a defender on him the whole time, he got a quick wrist shot past Lindbom to make it 3-1. From there, things started to get ugly. Brennan Othmann would score 3:35 after on the man advantage after taking a feed from former Don Mills Flyers teammate in Shane Wright to make it 4-1, with the two connecting on the 6-1 goal about 10 minutes later. Kitchener Rangers forward Francesco Pinelli scored his own with 10 minutes to go in between the two, with Conner Roulette also scoring another before it was all said and done.
But the real story was Bedard completing the hat-trick, putting him within two points of tying Connor McDavid for the best total by a 15-year-old at the tournament set back in 2013. His 2.00 points-per-game average matched McDavid's heading into the final, which will be the first big international matchup between Bedard and fellow 2023 top prospect Matvei Michkov, with both near the top of the tournament scoring standings.
Russia Gets Revenge on Finland
In one of the better games of the tournament in terms of overall excitement, Russia has managed to defeat Finland by a score of 6-5 to move on the championship game – evading Finland's comeback effort after failing to do so earlier in the tournament.
Russia is chasing its first gold medal at the U-18s since 2007 when Nikita Filatov and the late Alexei Cherepanov were the star players. Canada and Russia previously played in the gold medal game once, with Canada winning back in 2008. Russia lost in the gold medal game in the last iteration of the tournament back in 2019 and previously won bronze in 2017.
Russia struck first at just 3:08. Danil Lazutin grabbed the opening goal when he caught Jimi Suomi standing still and rushed in at full boar, beating Aku Koskenvuo with a backhander. But the Finns answered back just 54 seconds later when Samu Salminen scored a power-play goal when he crushed Ville Koivunen's pass in front past Sergei Ivanov to tie the contest.
The action was fierce for the remainder of the first half of the period. Matvei Michkov got his tournament-leading 11th goal of the tournament on the man advantage after some dirty work around the crease at 6:58, but Verner Miettinen tied it up again after batting the puck out of the air just in front of the Russian crease.
But Russia started to spread things out a bit more in the second period. At 33:15, Nikita Chibrikov got a rebound on the power play to restore Russia's advantage and then scored again four minutes later to make it 4-2.
The back-and-forth scoring wasn't done yet. At 43:43, Ivan Miroshnichenko seemingly put the game out of reach on the power play with a quick wrister, but Joakim Kemell answered back with his own power-play goal on a shot that just went below the crossbar and in. At 50:46, Miroshnichenko scored a second goal when Finland's Brad Lambert gave away the puck near the blueline, allowing Miroshnichenko to skate in with a nice move, beating Koskenvuo blocker side. It looked over at that point, but Salminen's second of the night came just seven seconds later – making it 6-4 after batting Topias Vilen's rebound cleanly out of the air.
Finland has a tendency to stay alive in games that were originally thought to be over, and they lived up to their "Pesky Finns" nickname. With 2:52 to go, Kemell scored his second goal of the night after Niko Huuhtanen bounced the pass from in front of Ivanov to the side of the net. Kemell was standing there all alone to knock in the puck to make it 6-5, putting Russia on edge in the dying seconds of the contest.
Finland was able to erase a 3-1 defecit with three minutes to go last week in the initial meeting of the two teams, but Russia would get revenge this time around, winning the nailbiter 6-5 on Wednesday evening.
1. Connor Bedard, F (CAN): Three goals and a lacrosse attempt in the same game. What a special tournament for the 15-year-old.
2. Shane Wright, F (CAN): Not to be outshined by his younger teammate, Wright had four points of his own. Never a dull moment.
3. Aku Koskenvuo, G (FIN): This could have been about 12-2 if it wasn't for Koskenvuo's outstanding effort. Nobody could beat his sprawling right pad.
Medal Day Schedule
Finland vs. Sweden - 5:00 PM ET
Canada vs. Russia - 9:00 PM ET