The U.S. National Junior Team made sure it wasn’t leaving overseas without gold medals this time around.
Fueled by a pair of goals from Isaac Howard and solid goaltending, the United States won the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship by beating hostnation Sweden 6-2 in the gold-medal game on Jan. 5. The victory is extra special for Cutter Gauthier, Rutger McGroarty, Jimmy Snuggerud, Trey Augustine, Gavin Brindley, Lane Hutson, Seamus Casey and Ryan Chesley, who all earned bronze medals with Team USA in the 2023 tournament.
Gauthier paced the Americans with 12 points (2G, 10A), which was also tied with Czechia’s Jiri Kulich for the most points in the tournament.
“This is everything we dreamed of,” said Gauthier, “Ever since we lost that game last year, the ’04s, we’ve had this date marked on our calendars. In Sweden, against Sweden, in front of their crowd. It was so surreal. It was such a great feeling to get the job done.”
This is Team USA’s sixth gold medal in the history of the tournament. It’s also the seventh time the U.S. has medaled out of the last eight tournaments, which is the best stretch in the country’s history.
“Growing up, I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched this tournament and dreamed to be in it and now to win it is amazing,” said Will Smith, who tallied two assists in the gold-medal game.
David Carle, head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team, couldn’t be prouder of how his young men accomplished the goal they set out to achieve.
“They came together in the summer with this game in mind, and I thought we saved our best for last,” Carle said. “They’ll walk together forever as champions. They committed to each other, didn’t care who got the credit and we got the job done.”
Team USA finished the tournament undefeated at 6-1-0-0. The team’s balance between its offensive firepower, averaging 6.3 goals per game, and its defense, allowing just over 2 goals per game, was key.
During the 11-day tournament, the U.S. players did what they needed to on the ice to be victorious.
Away from the rink, the guys shared a tight bond.
“You see a bunch of teams and they’re just a bunch of all-star teams. I feel like our team was really a team,” said McGroarty, who served as the U.S. captain. “We came together; we set our culture early. The coaching staff did an unbelievable job, our leadership did an unbelievable job getting the guys together, hanging out, doing little things.”
Team USA didn’t pull off the gold-medal game victory without facing adversity either.
After Sweden scored with five seconds remaining in the second period to pull within one goal, it was gut check time for the Americans. Sweden had all ofthe momentum going into the third period, and home fans urging their country on.
That didn’t faze the Americans, as Zeev Buium scored just 1:19 into the third period to take a two-goal lead. Ryan Leonard tallied a goal with 3:48 to go in regulation and McGroarty notched an empty netter just 38 seconds later.
Captain Rutger McGroarty
“Great third period,” Carle said. “We could have went in the room [at intermission], got down on ourselves, but I thought we came out and played our best period of the tournament. We’ve had great leadership all along and it was our most mature, most complete period of the tournament.”
Along with scoring three goals in the third, Team USA’s defense didn’t allow the Swedes to generate much offense.
Augustine stopped all 10 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. For the tournament, Augustine won all four of the games he started, boasting a .936% save percentage and allowing 1.75 goals against.
“He’s the absolute man,” McGroarty said of Augustine. “He shuts the door. He’s the best goalie in the world. He’s unbelievable. He came up big for us tonight and he came up big for us all tournament.”
Team USA built its 3-2 cushion thanks to a pair of second-period goals by Howard. “The Iceman” finished tied with a tournament-high seven goals.
“His speed, I thought, made them very uncomfortable,” Carle said. “That line was excellent for us, and [I’m] very happy for him.”
After Sweden pulled its goalie down 5-2, McGroarty closed out the tournament with a little help from his friends. Snuggerud skated the puck out of the U.S. end, and before he got to the blue line in the offensive zone, he slid a pass over to a wide open McGroarty to score easily.
“I’ve got to give a shout-out to Snuggs on that empty-net goal,” McGroarty said. “That’s probably the most unselfish thing I’ve ever seen. In a gold-medal game, he could have taken a shot at the net, but he slid it over to me. That just shows the type of kid he is. He’s an unbelievable hockey player, an unbelievable guy, an unbelievable friend.”
But the most special part about that moment for McGroarty wasn’t celebrating the impending victory.
“I actually made eye contact with my dad in the stands,” McGroarty said. “It’s a memory that will definitely be in my head for the rest of my life. There’s nothing you can say about it."
“We’re champions of the world. It’s pretty cool.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.