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2021 World Juniors recap & highlights: USA pounces early and coasts past Sweden

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Goaltending let Sweden down as they finish third in Group A.

United States v Czech Republic: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

There was a bit of confusion ahead of the final game of the World Junior Championship’s preliminary round as it seemed Sweden’s third-string goalie, Calle Clang, was going to get his first action of the tournament in the biggest game. In the end, it turned out it was a simple clerical error, and that usual starter Hugo Alnefelt would be between the pipes against the United States as both teams looked to grab first place in Group A.

Just over a minute into the contest, Sweden’s head coach may have been wishing he’d stuck with the erroneous lineup card when Drew Helleson threw a puck into the crease and had it bank off Alnefelt’s pad for a 1-0 lead. It was a harmless play that resulted in a big early hole for the Swedes.

Their task got even more difficult when Trevor Zegras flung a wobbling puck from the opposite side of the ice three minutes later. The puck fluterred over the shoulder of Alnefelt, finding a small hole in the top corner to make it a 2-0 lead, and tie Zegras with Canada’s Dylan Cozens for the goal-scoring and points lead in the tournament.

The adventures didn’t stop for the Swedish netminder after that, but fortunately the scoring did let up as the U.S. couldn’t capitalize on his sporadic play. With some stops of U.S. chances, Sweden was able get their own game going a bit. The puck finally began to see some time in USA’s end in the final third of the opening frame, and the shots were actually fairly even at the end of the period.

Two minutes into the second, the lead was extended to three. Defenceman Ryan Johnson jumped up into the play and took a pass from Zegras, firing the puck off the left arm of Alnefelt and in.

Sweden had a chance to get in on the scoring when Arvid Costmar raced in on a breakaway and got hooked. The shot was given to defenceman Victor Söderström, who made a series of great dekes to fool Spencer Knight, but one too many to handle as the puck slipped off his stick into the corner.

To punish the missed attempt, the U.S. came out and immediately made it a four-goal game after Alex Turcotte spun and fired the puck off another Alnefelt rebound into the goal, ending the Swedish starter’s night.

With the lead now insurmountable, there were a few chances for both teams in the second half of the game, but Sweden wasn’t able to find the extra gear needed to mount a comeback. The game ended by that 4-0 score, giving Team USA the top seed in Group A.

With a day off for all eight remaining teams, the United States will move on to play Slovakia in the quarter-finals on Saturday, while Sweden will get their archrival, Finland.