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Jets at the Juniors: Canada Brings Home Gold

It was a phenomenal final day at the World Junior Championships with Canada playing for gold while Winnipeg Jets prospects David Gustafsson and Ville Heinola battled it out for bronze.

Before these matchups could get going, it was time for the final game of the relegation series between Germany and Kazakhstan. With the two nations splitting the first two games, it was left to a deciding game three as to which country would be able to stay in the tournament next year. This game was all Germany as they routed Kazakhstan 5-0 to gain their spot in next year’s tournament. Kazakhstan on the other hand, gets swapped out for Austria in next year’s tournament as Kazakhstan will go down to the division I tournament next year. With Austria being victorious a few weeks ago, they will join the main tournament next year as the newly promoted team.

After the relegation game was the bronze medal game. This featured both Jets’ prospects as Gustafsson and Heinola played each other for the second time in the tournament. It was a tight game, much like the first meeting between the two countries. Finland got off to a 2-1 lead after the first period, but Sweden was able to score twice in the second period to take the lead 3-2 heading into the third period. Neither team was able to score in the third as Sweden won the bronze medal.

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It was a relatively quiet game for Gustafsson who played 19:41 and had two shots on goal. Despite not scoring, Gustafsson was leaned upon for his defensive play as Sweden closed out the game with a one goal lead. On the Finnish side, Heinola played 19:39 and had two penalty minutes.

For the entire tournament, Heinola played seven games and wound up with five assists, eight penalty minutes and a +1 rating. Gustafsson finished the tournament with seven games played where he scored one goal and three assists with four penalty minutes and a +4 rating.

After the bronze medal game was the main event. The gold medal showdown between Canada and Russia. This was the first game between the two countries since Russia destroyed Canada during the group stage. The stakes were much higher this time around and the game was also much closer.

The first period was wrought with penalties as Canada took four separate minor penalties throughout the frame. Luckily, they killed all four of them and remained unscathed through twenty minutes. Russia opened the scoring in the second period as they got one on their fifth powerplay of the game. Things got interesting shortly after the opening goal as Russia took two penalties on the same play which gave Canada a full two minutes of 5 on 3 action. Canada tied the game as Cozens was able to shovel in a rebound off a point shot.

The game was only tied for a few minutes as Russia scored to take the lead for the second time in the game. After fourty minutes, Canada trailed 2-1.

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With Canada pressing for the tying goal, Russia doubled their lead as they scored their third goal of the game. It was a really nice shot from in tight as Hofer couldn’t quite get his blocker on the puck.

In desperation mode, Canada went to work. They got a fortuitous bounce less than a minute later as a point shot bounced off a Russian defender and then team Canada’s leg before finding the back of the net. Back to within one, Canada got a late powerplay and scored off a gorgeous shot from the top of the circle. The game was all square at three and it appeared that the game would be heading to overtime.

Except, the game didn’t go to overtime. Akil Thomas of Canada played the hero as he raced into the Russian zone and beat the goaltender to the puck. He pulled it to the backhand and lifted it over the pad to score the go ahead goal.

Things got tougher for Canada while trying to close out the final few minutes. Bahl took a penalty and Russia had one final chance to tie the game with the goalie pulled. They weren’t able to get it done on the 6 on 4 and Canada managed to win gold for the second time in three years.

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Winnipeg’s Joel Hofer was the winning netminder and had a phenomenal tournament overall as he came away as the best goalie in the tournament.

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2020 project #1 pick Alexis Lafreniere took home the MVP honours after his great tournament as well.

To recap, as a Winnipeg hockey fan, it was an excellent tournament for you. Both Jets prospects played well and Gustafsson even won a medal. Team Canada won which is always great, but they were led by a Winnipeg born goalie, which doesn’t happen very often. That does it for the 2020 World Junior Tournament. It sure was fun.