In one of the great moments in USA Hockey history, the United States junior team defeated Sweden 3-1 to win gold at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships - the US's second gold medal in four years, and third all time. Between their success in the past four years at this tournament, along with strong performances at the Under-18 world championships and the silver medal at the 2010 Olympics, it's been an excellent stretch for American hockey.
It was an impressive run for the US after facing adversity early in the tournament, recovering from back-to-back 2-1 losses to Russia and Canada in the group stage to win four straight elimination games. They needed to beat Slovakia on New Year's Eve just to make it in to the quarterfinal round as the third place finisher in Group B, but from there, they got better and better, beating down the Czechs in the quarterfinals before lighting up Canada in the semis.
This morning, the US faced a stout test in defending champion Sweden, but dispatched them as well, 3-1 -- capping off a stretch in which they outscored opponents 24-5 in their last four games.
Johnny Gaudreau was held off the board in today's game, but he had another excellent performance and drew nationwide praise on TV and throughout the twitter/blog world for being one of the most electrifying players on the US roster. He joins Chris Kreider as Eagles who have brought World Junior gold back to the Heights. As one of the US's three most valuable players in the tournament, he comes home with a pretty sweet watch. (NCAA student-athletes are allowed to accept awards when participating in international competitions, presumably under the same rule that lets players bring home swag from bowl games?)
North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi scored the US's first two goals after they fell behind 1-0 early in the second period. That made it seven straight US goals by NCAA hockey players, exploding Don Cherry's head all over again. Grimaldi had been benched earlier in the tournament but responded well, and was by far the US's best forward in this game.
Vincent Trocheck finished the game off with an empty netter in the final minute, providing the final 3-1 margin.
John Gibson was brilliant again between the pipes; the Anaheim draft pick made a stunning pad save on a wraparound with 15 minutes remaining that just barely kept the puck from going over the line and preserved the US's 2-1 lead. He was named MVP of the tournament - sweet redemption after being part of the US team that stumbled to a 7th place finish last year.
These players will now return to their respective colleges and junior teams, but not before making every American hockey fan proud. Congratulations, USA Hockey!