For Canada, it was a chance to finally get one up on the USA in the gold medal game and solidify their status as one of the most dominant Canadian teams to ever play in the tournament. For the States, it was another chance to snatch the prize from their rivals across the border. For Habs fans, it was yet another chance to watch 2019 first round pick Cole Caufield, and 2020 first round pick Kaiden Guhle match up. For Devon Levi it was a chance to blazon his name in the history books with one of the the best performances by a goaltender in World Juniors history.
Caufield saw himself in the opening lineup, and Guhle found himself frequently deployed against the United States’ first line. The USA got the only two shots in the first five minutes, but that lead didn’t last long, Canada getting the next seven. Guhle laid a huge hit, Caufield and his line created chances in the offensive zone, and both goalies shut everything down. The high intensity of the game’s beginning carried through the period, remaining intense as the two best teams in the tournament battled the stiffest competition yet.
Caufield’s line had yet another monster shift with about seven and a half to go, and that shift started the momentum that eventually led to the 1-0 goal scored by Alex Turcotte. Unfortunately for Guhle, who had looked great until that point, Turcotte was his man in front of Levi on the first even-strength goal given up by Canada.
The United States kept their foot down on the gas, through the 15-minute mark, but took an offensive zone penalty with 3:22 to go, giving Canada the first power play of the game. The Canadiens got some close chances on the man advantage, including one that just clipped the outside post, but the game remained 1-0 after 20.
Canada had no answer for Zegras who made it 2-0 just thirty-two seconds into the second, or for the Americans in general. On the few occasions that Canada got out of their own zone, they generally had to bolt to the bench as soon as they gained the zone.
Canada did string together a decent series of shifts about eight minutes in, showing the first real signs of life in the second, but they were brief. With ten to go, Canada finally looked like they were finding their feet, only to take an ill-advised hooking call.
Arthur Kaliyev got two point-blank chances in a row on the advantage, but Levi met them with complete calm, and then Bowen Byram rang the post on the backhand short-handed.
Future Canadiens met in the corner, as Guhle hit Caufield, and Team Canada began to build on the momentum of the short-handed chance, putting together several shifts in the offensive zone, once again punctuated by a big hit on Caufield by Guhle, but the golden chances went wide.
As the second period drew to a close, Canada continued to control play, running the USA into the ground in the final minute. However, they remained unable to solve Spencer Knight, despite evening up the shots.
The third started with rushes in both directions, Canada taking over the shot count 22-21 for the first time since the early going of the first period. Despite that, however, they remained unable to create anything substantial. With about seven minutes gone, Turcotte was seemingly injured, but fortunately for the US, he did return.
Team Canada continued to press, but despite spending time in the offensive zone didn’t really present Knight with much of a challenge until towards the end of the third. Connor McMichael nearly had a glorious goal on a turnover at the blue line, but it didn’t work out quite as they had hoped.
Canada pulled Levi with 1:30-ish to go, but they remained unable to generate anything to challenge the defensemen, let alone Knight.
Caufield was one of the USA’s most noticeable forwards through the game, despite not getting points on any of the goals.
So USA continues to haunt Canada in gold medal games, Caufield picked up a gold medal, and Spencer Knight shut out a Canadian team that has been hailed as one of the best of all time. For Canada, it was a heartbreaking conclusion to an otherwise brilliant tournament.
And so ends the 2021 WJC, that occurred despite the odds and a global pandemic, and still gave us some really great hockey.