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WJC: Klefbom's Swedes end 31-year drought

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Calgary, AB - Goals were tough to come by, but drama certainly wasn't. In Thursday's conclusion to the 2012 World Junior Championship, the gold medal decision came down to the wire in a not-so-close 60-minute outing that saw Sweden escape with a win and the tournament's top spot.

It had been 31 years since they'd last captured World Junior gold.

Sweden collected 17 shots on goal in the opening period, while their opponent snapped three in the same 20-minute span. The second was even more dominant, as Tre Kronor bulleted 22 and extended to a 39-4 advantage overall.

The game progressed into the third, still deadlocked in a 0-0 tie. Then came overtime where, 10:39 in, a 31-year drought was ended with a most amazing goal to seal Sweden's championship dream.

In the neutral zone, Russia's Nikita Kucherov made an ill-advised play, turning the puck over and escaping a comeback try as he skated back without much exuberance. Sweden's Mika Zibanejad pounced, skated in alone with one Russian in chase, and made a glorious backhand deke to secure the game-winner past Andrei Makarov.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," exclaimed Oilers prospect Oscar Klefbom who, lost in the gold medal triumph, was named to the tournament's all-star team. "It's just unbelievable. We had such a strong team to win this game. Russia was good, but we were better. It feels amazing.

"It was unbelievable. The crowd was awesome. It's very special to play here in Canada, in Alberta. A million thoughts are in my head right now.

"It's awesome. I can't describe it."

The game-winning goal wouldn't have come without some late-period heroics by Swedish netminder Johan Gustafsson. With players caught up-ice on a hesitant pinch, the Russians charged back the other way and nearly orchestrated the go-ahead goal with only 30 seconds to play.

The 19-year-old goalie came up with a sensational save on a 2-on-1, coming across to deny the shooter with a strong push and equally as impressive positioning. In total, he amassed 17 gold-star saves in the win.

"Oh my God," No. 6 said. "[Gustafsson] had a very good game today. He's a very strong guy, physically and mentally. He's an awesome guy, too. It's unbelievable. It's all I can say right now. I don't know what to say. Can't describe it.

Although Sweden had dominated up and down the ice in the opening 40 minutes, they insist that frustration never set in; a challenging task, no doubt, considering the opposition goaltender played so well and with such a presence to try and halt the Swedes' relentless attack.

"No. Not at all," the Oilers prospect said when asked about whether or not his team wavered. "We believed in our ourselves and kept on working. Just crash the net and work hard, that's what we did."

"I'm really impressed with my kids and how they could stay so calm and focused playing a skilled team like this and in a situation like this," added Swedish Head Roach Roger Ronnberg. "I'm really impressed with how they came out tonight and in the last three games, actually. Almost the same thing that Russia did last year, we were able to do.

"It was a tough game. We were playing exactly as we'd hoped, but weren't able to score for a while. Russia's goalie played tremendous. They're a tough team to beat because they've got so much skill, but we found a way."

Just as the Oilers' 19-year-old stud was whisked away by his team's PR lead, he had another moment to express his post-game thoughts amongst his teammates' incessant cheering and singing in the background:

"It's unbelievable."

So it was. It was a special night.

- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick   

WJC: Gold Medal Post
Elated Oilers prospect Oscar Klefbom comments on his team's gold medal win.
WJC: Sweden-Russia Highlights
Take a look back at all the big plays in Sweden's thrilling overtime win.
WJC: Canada-Finland Highlights
Watch all the big plays from Canada's bronze medal win over Finland.


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