-- Members of Team Sweden put a gold medal around their necks, ending a 31-year drought in the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship after defeating Russia in a thrilling 1-0 OT finish.
“This is huge. This is so big, we haven't won World Junior gold in 31 years. This is the biggest sports event to happen in years. I don't know what to say, it's so big. It's huge," said Rikard Rakell.
The golden shot came off the stick of Mika Zibanejad as he seized a turnover at the Russian blue line, skated full throttle into the zone and put it away on the backhand.
“It feels really great. It was a long game but we had good patience and we finally scored,” said Calgary Hitmen forward, Victor Rask.
Russian netminder, Andrei Makarov was impenetrable through regulation, turning away 50 shots as he gave his team ample opportunity to win the game.
“Maybe it’s my best game. 59 shots, it’s good for me,” said Makarov.
Makarov got the start in net for the Russians despite the solid goaltending numbers put up by Andrei Vasilevski in tournament play. Vasilevski boasts a .953 save percentage and two shut outs over 5 games played.
However, the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades goalie stood up to the challenge, facing a consistent barrage of Sweden shots. Through the opening 40 minutes, the shot differential was greatly in Sweden’s favour at 39-4.
"They are the defending champions so it's always big to play them. Everybody wants to win the gold. Now we're standing here on top of the mountain with a gold medal in our hands. This won't happen very often," commented Rakell.
The Sweden shooting torrent would subside in the third as the Russian’s gained momentum, outshooting the Swedes 12-11.
With 32 second remaining in the third, Kuznetsov broke down the left side of the ice and spun around at the faceoff circle sending a pass to Nikita Gusev, with Swedish goalie, Johan Gustafsson sliding across for an clutch save to keep the score deadlocked at 0-0.
"He is very strong physically and mentally and he has been great all tournament. He is a great guy too," said Klefbom.
Just over a minute into the 20-minute overtime, Makarov flashed the leather on a rocket by Richard Rakell as he continued to do the heavy lifting to keep his team in the game.
“We had confidence in ourselves, we knew that the Russians were tired and we were going to win this,” said Friberg about the message in the dressing room during intermission.
Former Calgary villain, Max Friberg, now found himself and Sweden cheered on by a Calgary crowd, who had just days earlier been booing him after he rode his stick past the Swiss bench during their second game of the tournament. The Swedes drew the support of fans in the Scotiabank Saddledome and rallied off the constant “Go Sweden Go” chants all game.
“It was awesome. I love Calgary! I love Calgary!” said Friberg, sporting a huge grin after the win.
“The crowd was unbelievable, they were awesome. It's very special to play here in Canada and Alberta,” said Klefbom.
“Of course it feels like home. It feels so great. Sweden hasn’t taken the gold medal in so many years and now we finally did it and I’m so proud of everybody on the team,” added Rask.
Sweden went undefeated over the World Junior tournament, twice defeating Team Russia.
"This was the best game we played in the tournament. We saved the best for last,” said Klefbom.
Many fans in Calgary and Edmonton got the chance to say, “I was there” as this year’s World Junior tournament broke the record for the largest attendance at any World Junior Championship.Author: Avery Buye