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World Junior Championship notebook: Canada takes gold in thriller over Russia

A third period comeback was capped by Akil Thomas' late game-winning goal as Canada captured gold at the 2020 World Junior Championship. In the bronze medal game, Sweden defeated rival and defending champion Finland.

Canada's comeback capped by late gold medal-winning goal
In one of the tightest gold medal games in recent history, Canada erased a two-goal Russian lead in the third period and captured gold on the strength of a late-game winner by Akil Thomas.

The first period was full of action, with Russia outshooting Canada 10-7, but the real story was Canada's parade to the penalty box. Four times in the first frame Canada was whistled for infractions, but the penalty kill and goaltender Joel Hofer slammed the door shut. But after taking their fifth penalty of the outing – and handing Russia their fifth opportunity on the man advantage – Canada finally cracked. With Barrett Hayton in the box for a holding the stick penalty in the second period, Nikita Alexandrov tipped Yegor Zamula's shot past Hofer to give Russia the 1-0 lead.

Not long after Russia's game-opening goal, however, Canada was able to strike back. On a two-man advantage midway through the second period, Dylan Cozens fired a loose puck past a sprawling Amir Miftakhov to even the score. That goal sparked Canada, who started to push, but the momentum that was building following Cozens' goal was snuffed out when Russia's Grigori Denisenko scored on a scramble in front, pushing the puck under Joel Hofer's pad to make it 2-1 heading into the final period of the tournament. That set the stage for a wild third period.

After nearly nine quiet minutes in the final frame, Maxim Sorkin ripped home a wrister that put Russia ahead 3-1, but the two-goal lead was short lived. Less than one minute later, a Calen Addison shot ricocheted off of Connor McMichael's leg and past Miftakhov, bringing Canada back within one and turning the tide in their favor. Shortly after McMichael's tally, Russia's Dmitri Voronkov was whistled for cross-checking, and a mere 10 seconds into the power play, Canadian captain Hayton, who was a game-time decision with an arm injury sustained against Finland on Saturday, whistled a wrist shot past Miftakhov to tie the game at three. And then Akil Thomas stepped up.

With that next-goal-wins feeling floating in the air, Thomas, who had been quiet throughout the tournament, scored the biggest goal of his career. Slipping past a Russian defender and reaching for a loose puck, Thomas was able to make a last-second deke and shovel the puck past Miftakhov to give Canada a 4-3 lead with four minutes remaining. Despite some late penalty trouble, Canada did not relinquish that lead and held on to capture 2020 World Junior Championship gold.

With the win, Canada grabbed its third gold medal since 2015, including its second against Russia. Canada now has a 6-4 record against Russia in the championship game and 18 gold medals in tournament history – the most of any nation.

Sweden salvages tournament with bronze
It wasn't the medal they wanted, but a 3-2 victory over rival Finland allowed Sweden to skate away from the 2020 World Junior Championship with bronze medals around their necks.

The podium placement didn't come easy for the Swedes, however, as the hard-fought win began with Finland taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. The first period Finnish lead came on the strength of Patrik Puistola's tip-in effort just shy of the midway mark of the opening period and Matias Maccelli capitalizing on Nils Hoglander's awful turnover late in the frame, the two goals broken up by Rasmus Sandin getting Sweden on the board with the man advantage.

Fortunately for the Tre Kronor, they were able to bounce back and take the lead in the second. Samuel Fagemo scored his fifth of the tournament at the halfway point, stuffing home a rebound after Annunen stopped Hoglander's initial shot. Three minutes later, Linus Oberg scored a blooper, shooting the puck from the corner and somehow squeaking it under Annunen's right leg to put Sweden ahead 3-2. From there, Hugo Alnefet was the difference for Sweden, stopping 32 shots – including 11 in the third period – to prevent Finland from drawing level.

The bronze medal is Sweden's first third-place finish since 2010 and fifth medal over the past decade. As for the defending champion Finns, it's another all-or-nothing finish. The Finns have won three golds in the past seven World Junior Championships, but have finished without a medal in the other four events, including this year's tournament.

Kazakhstan relegated to Division IA
Germany will remain in the top World Junior Championship thanks to a 6-0 victory over Kazakhstan in Game 3 of the relegation series.

It was a significant about-face for the Germans, who fell 4-1 to Kazakhstan Saturday, which forced the do-or-die game. But with their tournament life on the line, Germany came to play. Dominik Bokk led the way with two goals, with Eric Mik, Lukas Reichel, Niklas Heinzinger and Tim Fleischer each lighting the lamp. Hendrik Hane stopped all 27 shots he faced for his second shutout of the relegation round.

The win was huge for Germany, who will have a chance to compete against Switzerland and Slovakia in Group A next year. Germany can bring back seven players for 2020, including top talents Tim Stutzle, J.J. Peterka and Reichel. Austria will take Kazakhstan's place in Group B next season.

Tournament All-Star Team
Forward: Barrett Hayton (CAN), Alexis Lafreniere (CAN), Samuel Fagemo (SWE)
Defense: Rasmus Sandin (SWE), Alexander Romanov (RUS)
Goaltender: Joel Hofer (CAN)

Tournament Awards
Best Goalkeeper: Joel Hofer (CAN)
Best Defenseman: Rasmus Sandin (SWE)
Best Forward: Alexis Lafreniere (CAN)

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