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WJC 2013: Team USA completes gold medal mission

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Phil Housley shrugged off a disappointing preliminary round, saying he simply wanted his team to get better with each game. Mission accomplished.

With two clutch goals from Rocco Grimaldi, who was benched for an entire game earlier in the tournament, Team USA put away defending champion Sweden 3-1 to win the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship today.

John Gibson, by far the best American player in the tournament (and quite possibly the best, period), stood tall in goal for the United States and earned the honor as tournament MVP.

Team USA knew Sweden would be its sternest test, not only as last year's champion but one of the most solid all-around teams in the tournament. Even without three of its top players out to injury, Sweden had a tough road to the gold medal game and had to outlast host Russia in a shootout just two days ago.

And the Swedes were better from the start, showing their puck-possession game and strong puck support that's made them a junior hockey powerhouse in the last decade. After scoring the opening goal of the game, though, Team USA seemed to awaken and got started with its pressure game -- and Sweden struggled with it.

Grimaldi scored his first goal in the second period, tying the game on a simple play that hockey coaches everywhere will want to replay to their kids over and over again. He outworked a Swedish defenseman to win a puck battle, and threw the puck at the net into Lundstrom's feet.

The shot surprised the Swedish goaltender, who had the puck richochet off his back, off his skate and into the net. The go-ahead goal was even more awkward, but they all count, right?

Jacob Trouba -- also a standout on the blueline for the Americans -- closed out his strong tournament with a shot from the point that hit Grimaldi in the arm before bounding behind Lundstrom. The goal stunned the Swedes, who hadn't spend a lot of time trailing in recent games but all of a sudden were staring uphill at a U.S. team with burgeoning confidence.

Sweden brought the house in the third period, throwing pucks from all over the ice toward Gibson and trying anything to create traffic at the net mouth. Team USA's defense, its biggest strength entering the World Junior, showed its immense depth and absorbed everything Sweden tossed its way.

Team USA's ability to get the puck out of danger quickly became its bread and butter, not allowing Sweden to get into a cycle game and sustain pressure in the offensive zone. The Americans cut the head off the snake, preventing possession time from piling up for Sweden and disrupting its preferred style of play.

It was a textbook win for Housley and the Americans, and a proud moment for USA Hockey.

"This started back in August when we got our guys together and prepared in camp," Housley said post-game. "We prepared for December 16. Our guys played like champions and I think they inspired a nation today."

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