Team Canada and Team USA will renew their rivalry, and this time it will be for a gold medal at the 2017 World Juniors.
Team USA punched its ticket to the championship game after a nerve-wracking semifinal shootout victory over Russia earlier on Wednesday. A few hours later, the opponent for Thursday’s finale was determined.
Despite trailing twice in the first period and a goaltending change, Canada advanced with a 5-2 victory in a thriller versus Sweden later in the evening. Julien Gauthier, taken 21st overall last year by the Carolina Hurricanes, scored the winner, jamming in a loose puck past Felix Sandstrom.
Gauthier scored the empty-netter late in the third period, eliminating any possibility of a miracle Sweden comeback.
Earlier anxiousness of Canadian hockey fans was replaced by jubilation in the end. But it didn’t start out so well for Canada.
Sweden jumped out to the lead on a short-handed goal, as Joel Eriksson-Ek beat Connor Ingram with a shot off the wing, an attempt that Ingram should’ve stopped.
The Swedes regained the lead two minutes later, as Carl Grundstrom slid the puck through the legs of Ingram. He was replaced in net by Carter Hart, a prospect of the Philadelphia Flyers, immediately after Sweden’s second goal.
But Canada took over in the second period, and continued that into the third, never really sitting back on the lead.
Now, it’s Canada vs. USA for the gold. These teams met in the round robin, with Team USA scoring the win on New Year’s Eve.
Quite a game for the young players on the Winnipeg Jets, and once again Patrik Laine was a central character.
The Jets defeated the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Wednesday. Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Laine all scored, as Winnipeg moved to within a point of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Laine is now up to 21 goals on the season. Taken second overall in last year’s draft, he’s still just 18 years old and doesn’t celebrate his birthday until April.
He also surpassed Auston Matthews, taken No. 1 overall, for the rookie goal scoring lead, and what a back-and-forth battle that is shaping up to be in the second half of the season. It should be one of the most compelling storylines, outside of the playoff race, which both Laine and Matthews could also be a part of, over the next few weeks and months.
In a league where scoring is difficult and getting to the 50-goal plateau is a rare accomplishment unless you’re Alex Ovechkin, a pair of teenagers could very well reach the 40-goal mark by the time their respective freshman campaigns are done.
The Panthers loss overshadowed the fact that the ageless Jaromar Jagr, who assisted on Greg McKegg’s goal in the second period, moved into sole possession of fifth all-time in assists with 1,136 helpers.
Will NHL players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea? It’s one of the big questions surrounding the league right now, but there has yet to be a definitive answer.
The International Olympic Committee previously set a Jan. 15 deadline for a decision, while IIHF president René Fasel previously stated there is a 50/50 chance NHL players will participate. Meanwhile, the NHLPA has already rejected a proposal from the league to extend the current CBA in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics.
And yet, amidst the ongoing saga, the executive director of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr, has recently put an optimistic tone on the topic.
“I’m more optimistic now that I ever have been, at least as far as we’re concerned, that we’ll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go,” Fehr told reporters, as per ESPN.
“So I assume there will be further discussions over the course of the next several weeks and I choose to be optimistic on this one. We’ll see.'”
NHL owners don’t feel the same way — a point reiterated by hockey insider Darren Dreger on Wednesday.
“Unless there is a game-changer that sways the owners, then that attitude is going to remain consistent; that the NHL will not be going to South Korea. And by ‘game-changer’, we’re talking about something perhaps CBA related, which Don Fehr says is too complicated. It would take months to negotiate something like that. Or, a huge financial gain from the IOC or Olympic-related to persuade the NHL owners. And at this stage, that seems like a long shot.”
Canada has won gold in ice hockey at each of the last two Winter Olympics.
It’s Rivalry Night, as the Philadelphia Flyers host the New York Rangers.
The Flyers are still searching for their first win since before the holiday break, while the Rangers lost Tuesday to the last-place Buffalo Sabres, which is certainly not a good way to begin 2017. Both teams will look to get back into the win column tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
You can catch the game on NBCSN, or watch online using the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
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Flyers look to climb back into the win column versus Rangers
Goalie nods: Flyers start Mason for 22nd time in 24 games
NHL on NBCSN: After ‘awful’ loss to Sabres, Rangers hope to bounce back against Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers are looking for their first win since coming back from the holiday break, and they’ll get a chance Wednesday against the rival New York Rangers (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).
The Flyers will once again look to Steve Mason in net, as they look to break this four-game losing streak and add a little more distance between them and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race.
You could argue they should be feeling a tad more optimistic about their game after peppering the Anaheim Ducks with 55 shots on goal in Sunday’s shootout loss.
Meanwhile, the Rangers are coming off a disappointing loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, and they, too, are looking to move up in the standings. New York is currently five points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Metropolitan Division lead.
The Rangers just announced they will be without defenseman Marc Staal because of an upper-body injury. Adam Clendening draws into the lineup, while Henrik Lundqvist starts in goal.