After two very different semifinal games Monday night, Canada and the U.S. will face off for the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Coming off a commanding 5-0 victory against Russia, the Canadians enter the final with an undefeated record and have outclassed their opponents in every game. The lack of an NHL season has allowed Canada to ice a lineup that is as deep as any the tournament has seen in over a decade. They will be looking to end the tournament with a perfect record for the first time since 2015.
Team USA had a much more difficult time getting to the gold medal game, as it took a last-minute goal to beat Finland 4-3. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen tied the game up late, only to have Los Angeles Kings prospects Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev hook up for a late game winner to avoid overtime.
Tonight’s game will be exciting—and maybe a little conflicting—for Avalanche fans, as the organization has prospects on both sides. Helleson gives American fans a rooting interest for Team USA. The 2019 second round pick has been solid in the tournament while being asked to play in a shutdown role. With two goals and an assist, Helleson has added to the team’s scoring as well, but that’s not what the coaching staff has relied on him for. He has been playing a ton of minutes—normally opposite Jake Sanderson—and will have to step up in a big way if the Americans hope to slow down Canada’s offense.
On the other side there are three Avalanche first rounders attempting to help Canada win back-to-back gold medals. After missing a game and a half with a shoulder injury, Newhook returned to the lineup and scored on his first shift of the semifinal. He is now up to six points in five games and has solidified the team’s depth down the middle.
Newhook goes right under the crossbar to beat Askarov pic.twitter.com/vsZ7zVlKGk— Mile High Hockey (@MileHighHockey) January 4, 2021
On the backend, Byram was named Canada’s top defenseman in the tournament and has performed exactly as expected. The former fourth-overall pick has been the anchor on Canada’s blue line, as he and partner Jamie Drysdale have looked like men among boys.
Joining Newhook and Byram on Canada’s quest for gold is Avs first-round pick from the most recent draft, Justin Barron. Working his way back from a year of health scares, Barron has gotten stronger as the tournament has gone on, and has been playing a role similar to that of Helleson for Team USA. He is a big reason why the opposition has had a hard time creating scoring chances against Canada. He has two assists in six games but hasn’t found the net yet. With that, it’s worth nothing that Canada’s last two golden goals at the tournament have come from players scoring for the first time. Just sayin’...
If it should win, Canada will repeat as World Under-20 champion and pick up its third gold medal in the last four years. The United States, meanwhile, is back in the medals after a quarterfinal loss a year ago. A win will give it its first gold since 2017.
Be it at the Olympics, women’s world championship, WJC or anything tournament in between, Canada vs. the USA has become the preeminent rivalry in hockey. Over the last decade these two countries have given fans some of the most dramatic games in the sport, and the 2021 gold medal game should be no different. Whether north or south of the 49th parallel, this gold-medal matchup will feel satisfying for Avalanche fans because one way or another, at least one prospect will leave with a gold medal for their trophy case.