Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

It is the final day of the World Junior A Challenge (WJAC), and that means that it is time to award medals to three of the four remaining teams. TSN does provide coverage of the semifinals and medal games, which provides some exposure to a great event. Some casual fans may be wondering why this tournament matters. It’s simple, beyond the pride of competing for your nation at any level, it is an important milestone for NHL scouts. Every NHL club has scouts watching every moment of this tournament, and several high-quality NHL players have been discovered or proven themselves in the WJAC.  

2023 World Junior A Bronze Medal Game (Blain Potvin / The Hockey Writers)

If you look back at some of the tournament alumni, you’ll find names like Cale Makar, Kyle Turris, and Nikolaj Ehlers. All three were top 10 picks in their respective NHL Entry Draft classes and may not have had the opportunity to go that high had it not been for their play in this tournament.  

Related: 2023 World Junior A Challenge Semifinals Preview

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The matchups are set, and the bronze medal game featured Team USA versus Sweden. A game that saw the USA come out victorious with an 8-5 win in a barn burner of a match. 

Team USA vs. Sweden 

Team Sweden was looking to win their second consecutive bronze medal; Team USA was looking to salvage a medal after dominating the round-robin. When these two teams met in the round-robin, Team USA won 7-4 in a game that saw Sweden play tentatively as they were still adjusting to the North American ice surface and playing style. If you enjoy watching hockey when played at a fast pace, and with lots of goals, this game was for you. The biggest challenge for either side was to refocus on the game after losing their semifinal matchups. 

“My message going into today was to respond that we got to fight. It wasn’t details; it wasn’t systems, it’s about a mentality.”

– Team USA head coach Matt Smaby 

Both teams looked ready to put on an offensive display as they tore out of the gate with six goals between them in the opening frame. Sweden needed a fast start and was relying on their defensive structure and goaltending to allow them to get settled into this game. Unfortunately, Swedish starting goaltender, Carl Axelsson, had a shaky start, allowing a goal on the first shot against. Worse yet, it was his giveaway that gave the Americans control, and his inability to get set in his net that allowed the shot from below the goal line to beat him. He let in one more on only the fourth shot, and head coach Johan Rosen was forced to change netminders only four minutes into the game. 

2023 World Junior A Bronze Medal Game (Blain Potvin / The Hockey Writers)

Team USA came out looking to set the tone by playing with speed and physicality, just as they had in their round-robin win over Sweden. It seemed to work immediately, as they were able to jump to an early lead. However, their issues with taking penalties allowed Sweden to keep themselves in the game as their power play (PP) was able to score two goals quickly. Sweden was able to gain control for short periods, but as the game wore on, the American side was able to play the brand of hockey they desired setting the tone for long stretches.  

“They (Sweden) were coming right back at us and I think we had to be a little more thoughtful with what we were doing out there. Its about managing the game as it’s progressing and its ever-changing.” 

– Team USA head coach Matt Smaby

It helped that their offence was producing nearly at will, led by Trevor Connelly, who had a hat-trick after the first period, scored a Michigan power play goal in the second and finished the afternoon with four goals. 

“I was really energized and I was feeling myself so I think that things kind of just went my way in the first.”

– Trevor Connelly 

While Sweden was able to generate more shots than they had in any game previously and score five goals, they were still too patient with the puck, thinking they had more time to get a shot off, but USA was quick to close gaps, block shots and get sticks in the lanes, keeping the Swedes from generating more high danger chances. In the end, the USA was able to play to their strengths more than Sweden, and it allowed them to go home with the bronze. 

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