U.S. takes on Finland seeking fifth World Junior Championship gold

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The Americans’ victory Friday night in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship semifinal against Russia ensured they will medal for the fourth straight tournament. The matchup vs. Finland Saturday night (8 p.m. ET; NHL Network, TSN) also gives them the opportunity to claim gold for the second time in three years and for the fifth time ever.

“It’s huge for USA Hockey, but USA Hockey, we demand gold,” said U.S. defenseman Phil Kemp, whose goal line clearance helped preserve an early third period lead against Russia. “We want gold. We’re here for gold. We’re going to rest up, get back to the hotel, put our feet up, and get ready to go for [Saturday].”

The Finns have only won two World Junior Championship medals since 2006, both coming in the form of gold in 2014 and 2016.

“We definitely know how they play,” said forward Aleksi Heponiemi via IIHF.com. “We know they’re a good team and we’re going to have to work really hard to get the win [Saturday]. We’ve got to be aggressive and go at them.”

The teams know each other well. Not only did they meet on New Year’s Eve with the U.S. coming out on top 4-1, a number of players on both sides were part of the American and Finnish squads that won gold in the last two U18 World Championships.

While he didn’t get into a game during the 2017 U18 tournament, U.S. goaltender Cayden Primeau knows what he’s up against Saturday night. He stopped 27 in the preliminary round game against Finland and been a huge reason for the team’s run to the gold medal game. He helped keep the Russian offense at bay with 34 saves — including 15 in the third period — and has stopped 79 of the 82 shots he’s faced.

“It’s a pretty emotional tournament and obviously a game like that is pretty emotional, so just not trying to get too high, not trying to get too low is key,” Primeau said. “The goal is gold, so we’re not quite finished yet. The battle is still there, so it’s an honor and to do it with this group is something special.”

Said U.S. head coach Mike Hastings: “When we got together on the [Dec.] 14th, we said this was the goal, to make it to the gold medal game and our players made that a reality here tonight.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.