The U.S. National Junior Team got 2021 started in golden fashion with a 2-0 victory over Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship on Jan. 5 in Edmonton, Alberta. It was the fifth gold medal for the U.S. in the event and the fifth time in the last six World Junior Championships that the U.S. has medaled, the best medal stretch in the country’s history.
Presented with the unique challenge of playing in a bubble due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. assembled in early December for a training camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich. The extra time allowed the team to establish an identity, spend time together and safely evaluate final roster spots. “Dictate” and “Gold Medal Standard” were common phrases at every morning team meeting.
Following a week of training camp, the U.S. entered the Edmonton bubble and quarantined in self-isolation for four days. The team filled its days virtually through Zoom with a wide variety of activities, from stretching and team workouts, to hearing from notable USA Hockey alumni like Patrick Kane, Charlie McAvoy and Dylan Larkin, along with Tampa Bay assistant coach Derek LaLonde, who shared what the Lightning did in their bubble en route to winning the Stanley Cup in Edmonton. And while perhaps a small thing, one of the most important Zoom activities that contributed to building the foundation for the team came with the daily breakfast, lunch and dinner Zoom calls, including at lunch, where instead of in a team setting, the players enjoyed the meal individually with a different teammate each day.
One final message was delivered from the coaching staff to the team prior to the tournament starting: focus. The story from Eat That Frog was shared, about crossing the desert one oil barrel at a time. With the mentality of focusing on the next barrel, one could accomplish an amazing feat, as opposed to mentally always thinking about the entire journey. The ultimate message, we're not thinking about gold today, we're focused on what our next barrel is to get there.
After a 3-2 victory over Finland on Dec. 22 in its lone exhibition game, tournament action opened on Dec. 25 against Russia. The U.S. fell behind 4-1 to its international rivals, but made a significant push in the third period with goals from John Farinacci (Red Bank, N.J.) and Trevor Zegras (Bedford, N.Y.) to make the game 4-3. However, thanks to an empty-net goal, Russia prevailed, 5-3.
Dustin Wolf (Gilroy, Calif.) and Team USA posted a shutout against Austria with an 11-0 victory the following night. In total, 16 different players picked up points in the win, including Boldy, who scored a hat trick. Wolf, who appeared in net for the U.S. against Russia in the final 26 minutes of action, began a shutout streak for Team USA that would span over parts of five games, eventually setting a IIHF World Junior Championship record.
The U.S. clinched a spot in quarterfinals on Dec. 29, with a 7-0 shutout of the Czech Republic. The line of Bobby Brink (Minnetonka, Minn.), Brett Berard (East Greenwich, R.I.), and Farinacci, appropriately, was given credit for kick-starting the U.S. offensive attack. Brink was named U.S. Player of the Game with two goals. Spencer Knight (Darien, Conn.) stopped all 22 shots he faced to extend the U.S. shutout streak.
In its fourth and final preliminary round game, the U.S. faced off against Sweden, who lost for the first time in over 14 years in preliminary action the night prior in overtime to Russia. With a win in regulation, the U.S. had the chance to take the top seed in Group B heading into the quarterfinals. Knight stopped all 27 shots he faced, while Zegras scored and added two assists in a 4-0 win. The three-point performance by Zegras gave him the tournament lead. Alex Turcotte (Chicago, Ill.) scored his first World Juniors goal and was named U.S. Player of the Game.
The eight returners to Team USA were determined to help the U.S. avenge last year’s heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Finland in the quarterfinals and did so with a 5-2 win over Slovakia. Farinacci was named the U.S. Player of the Game after scoring two goals and winning 10-of-14 faceoffs. The U.S. outshot Slovakia, 43-18, as Knight won his third consecutive start.
Team USA then got the chance to play Finland in the semifinals in what turned out to be another great chapter in the rivalry between the two countries. The teams traded first period goals, with Turcotte scoring for the U.S.. Farinacci and Boldy created a two-goal lead for the U.S. in the middle frame, but Finland came back in the third with back-to-back goals of their own.
That set the stage for some late-game heroics as Turcotte found an open Arthur Kaliyev (Staten Island, N.Y.) who ripped a shot with the puck at his feet into the back of the net with 1:16 remaining. Knight closed the door in the final moments of the game as Team USA hopped from their bench knowing the 4-3 win meant they’d face Canada the next night in the gold-medal game.
Looking back to early established team identity words like “Dictate” and “Gold Medal Standard,” it should’ve come as no surprise how the U.S. would play in the gold-medal game. Team USA pushed Canada hard in its own zone, particularly in the opening two periods, and took advantage of scoring opportunities in its 2-0 victory.
The shutout was Knight’s third of the tournament, setting new U.S. individual and career marks, and tying the World Juniors all-time record for most in a tournament by a goaltender. Knight was named U.S. Player of the Game after making 34 saves, including 15 in the third period and captain Cam York (Anaheim, Calif.), Zegras and Knight were named the three best USA players of the tournament. Zegras, who led the World Juniors with 18 points, was named tournament MVP.
Tournament MVP Zegras led all players in the tournament with 18 points, becoming the first American to outright lead the tournament since Derek Stepan accomplished the feat in 2010. Casey Mittelstadt finished tied as the tournament points leader in 2018. Zegras was also tops in the tournament with 11 assists and second in goals with seven. Farinacci led all American players with a 57.30% faceoff winning percentage with Turcotte next at 53.91%. Kaliyev and Zegras finished with a team-best +9 rating.
Knight finished the tournament with a 5-0-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record, complimented by three shutouts, a 1.63 GAA and .940 SV%. Wolf earned a shutout in his lone start of the tournament. Team USA had the best power play in the tournament (.409/7-22) and was third in penalty killing (.788/11-14). The U.S. averaged just six minutes per game in penalty minutes, the fewest of any team.
Knight set a new single tournament record with three shutouts, which also set a new career record for USA Hockey. Wolf and Knight combined for a 218:53 shutout streak, setting a new IIHF World Junior Championship tournament team record. Knight’s shutout in the gold-medal game was the first U.S. shutout in a World Juniors medal-round game. Knight finished 6th with U.S. record for best GAA in a single tournament (1.63).
Zegras wrote his name in the U.S. record books countless times. He ranks 2nd for most assists in a single tournament (11), 2nd for most points in a single tournament (18) and T-3rd for most goals in a single tournament (7). He also set new career high marks: T-1st in U.S. career assists (20) and T-1st in career points (27). Zegras is the fifth American to be named tournament MVP.
Team USA captured its fifth gold medal in the World Juniors (2021, 2017, 2013, 2010, 2004) and has earned a medal in five of the last six tournaments, its best medal stretch ever. The U.S. is 4-1 in gold-medal games against Canada in the World Juniors, with three of those victories coming in Canada.