Canada barely holds on to win in the semi-finals

You can call this an instant classic.

Canada jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period and led 5-1 in the second, but had to defend a one-goal lead late in the game as the Swedes never went away. Canada held on for a 5-4 victory and a berth in the gold medal match at the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championship.

The game showcased the speed, skill and drive of both teams and makes this tournament one of the very best on the hockey calendar every year. Sweden defeated Canada 35–26, but could not beat Canadian goaltender Carter George to tie the game. George was great in net and made the difference.

Canada led 5-2 after two periods, but third-period goals from Swedes Victor Eklund and Hugo Orrsten created some tense moments on the Canadian bench and kept the result in doubt until the end.

Canada’s win sets up a gold medal final against the United States, the first time the arch-rivals have met in the U18 final since 2013.

Canada got its first Grade A chance of the match just 26 seconds in when, after a Swedish turnover, Ryder Ritchie found himself up front alone and got a great shot off Love Harenstam, but the goalkeeper turned it away.

Less than two minutes later, defender Spencer Gill made a beautiful pass from the blue line to Liam Greentree, who scored from what seemed an impossible angle – think Leon Draisaitl’s office to the goalkeeper’s left, almost close to the goal line. A referee review followed when Kashawn Aitcheson delivered a thunderous strike to a Swedish player earlier in the match and the officials looked to see if it was head contact. No penalty was called and the goal made it 1-0 Canada.

Gavin McKenna scored to make it 2-0 at 7:09 when Matthew Schaefer made a perfect stretch pass to Porter Martone at the Swedish blueline, who one-touched the puck to a streaking McKenna. The Whitehorse Wizard then raced into the attacking area and ran a Connor McDavid-style move through defenders Gabriel Eliasson and Viggo Gustafsson before torching Harenstam.

McKenna’s goal in the first period was his 16e point of this tournament, which sets a new Canadian mark for most points among one U18s. Macklin Celebrini (2023) and Tyson Jost (2015) had 15 points for their respective U18s.

Schaefer got his second assist of the game at the 8:10 mark when he executed a give-and-go with Ritchie and then finished with a backhand flip pass to Tij Iginla, whose hard wrist shot went over Harenstam’s arm.

Although George wasn’t busy in the first inning, he was forced to make some key saves. His best came with 2:38 left in the opening frame when Viggo Gustafsson found open ice at the top of the right faceoff circle and fired a shot that George swallowed.

Moments later, Ritchie made it 4-0 when he finished off a Canadian tic-tac-toe, with Iginla and Frankie Marelli helping to set up the goal. Canada defeated Sweden 12-6 in that period.

Sweden found some life at 3:53 of the second. After Marrelli tripped and turned the puck over in his own end, Linus Eriksson collected him and made a cross-seam pass to Viggo Nordlund, who one-timed the puck past George.

Henry Mews restored Canada’s four-goal lead at 7:07. During the ridiculous passing play, McKenna fed Martone, who dropped the puck past Caleb Desnoyers, who then found a wide-open Mews on the side of the net for another one-time goal. Martone’s assist was his 22NL all-time point among the U18s, setting a new Canadian record, held by Connor Bedard at 21 points prior to this year’s tournament.

However, the Swedes did not want to leave. At 8:29, Nordlund played give-and-go with Alfons Freij and buried his second of the match to make it 5–2 for Canada. Nordlund had a chance for the hat trick late in the second on a breakaway, but George came up with another big save.

George made his best save of the match moments later when he robbed Lucas Pettersson with a glove save. George had Pettersson’s number throughout the match and was able to stop the highly skilled Swedish striker from close range several times. The Swedes defeated Canada 16-7 in the second and George was the reason Canada took a 5-2 lead into the break.

Sweden inched closer at 7:58 of the third when Nordlund made a nice reverse pass to Eklund, who quickly put the puck past George. It was Nordlund’s third point of the game.

With 5:41 to play, Orrsten rammed a loose puck into the paint after a Gustafsson point shot and Sweden made it 5-4.

The result is sweet revenge for Canada, which was defeated 7-2 by Sweden in the 2023 U18 semi-finals. Canada is now playing for gold, while Sweden is forced to play for bronze against Slovakia.