The last time the Minnesota Wild had a prospect win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships was in 2008 when Colton Gillies helped Team Canada to the prize (Jason Zucker
who won in 2010 with Team USA doesn't count because he wasn't a Wild property at that time). On Thursday, three Wild players threw their gloves and sticks in the air in jubilation as Sweden won a 1-0 overtime thriller over Russia in the gold medal game.
All three Wild prospects were exceptional in this one. Johan Larsson
, who will go down as the second Swedish captain and first in 31 years to win gold at the WJC, was all over the ice and was a +1. He was on the ice for Mika Zibanejad's breakaway game-winner.
"I was so happy," he said of seeing Zibanejad finally crack through Russian goalie, Andrei Makarov. "It was so much hard work for that. We've had some good players, and good teams, but we have not won it so it feels really good to win it."
Defenseman Jonas Brodin
saw an abundance of ice time and was on lockdown all night. He faced several Russian rushes into the zone and calmly sticked the puck away each time. He also generated offense, including two scoring chances in overtime.
"It's a really great feeling," said Brodin. "It's unbelievable. I'm so happy right now."
Finally, there was Johan Gustafsson
, who made 17 saves in the shutout victory, but only had four through two periods. Most goaltenders despise games in which they don't get a lot of action, but it didn't phase Gustafsson. He came up with 12 saves in overtime, including a glorious sliding stop in the waning minutes that he admitted was the biggest save of his career.
"Toughest game I've played my whole life," said Gustafsson about having to stay focused with the lack of shots. "Four shots, world champion final. Eighteen thousand in the crowd. That's tough in your head, but you need to stay focused, because sometime the guys are going to need me back there. They're going to get some chances. That happens in every game."
The Swedes will enjoy this victory and then all three will return to their native country to join their Swedish Elite League teams. Larsson, who signed a three-year entry level contract with the Wild is expected to come over to compete for a spot with the Wild next season.
"I'm looking forward to going over there and fighting for a spot," said Larsson. "I know it's going to be tough. I have to work really hard in the summer to get prepared for that, but that's my goal next year. Maybe I go over there and practice with them in the summer and see how everything is there."
Gustafsson is not under contract, and says he hasn't thought much about next year. But he admitted the NHL is still the goal.
"Of course," he said when asked if he wants to come over to Minnesota. "It's everybody's dream to play in the NHL."