BUFFALO – What a difference a year makes. Canada is back on top of the junior world thanks to a 3-1 victory over a very good Swedish team, one year after a heartbreaking loss on home ice in Montreal to Team USA. The goalie for Canada in both games was Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart and redemption was his tonight in Buffalo.
“I’ve never seen a goalie that’s just so calm back there,” said defenseman Cale Makar. “Even when we’re down or have a few lapses, he’s able to pull us back together. He’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever played with.”
Last year, Hart had to settle for silver when he lost a shootout to Team USA and Tyler Parsons, who outduelled his Canadian counterpart with a little help from breakaway ace Troy Terry. This year, it was Hart standing tall in a goaltending battle with Pittsburgh Penguins pick Filip Gustavsson, who was pretty great himself. Hart was the busier of the two netminders on the evening and the tears of last year’s loss were replaced by the good kind this time out.
“It just shows how big a competitor he is,” said captain Dillon Dube. “He was our best player tonight and throughout the tournament he was unbelievable. He gave us confidence to do what we could up front.”
This was certainly a redemptive tournament for the seven Canadian players who settled for silver in Montreal.
“We were trying not to dwell on what happened,” Hart said. “Last year was tough, we went all the way and came up a little short. This year was a new group and we had a new mindset. We built every single game to get to this moment.”
Dube, the Calgary Flames prospect, was also part of that returning cohort and his opening goal, where he powered to the net with Timothy Liljegren draped all over him, was a crucial first strike. Kale Clague, the Los Angeles Kings pick, was an unsung hero on the back end against Sweden, making several very smart plays and picking up a gold medal that will surely look nicer on display than his silver from last year.
Arizona Coyotes pick Tyler Steenbergen played the hero with a game-winner late in the third period and the fact that the 13th forward on the squad got the clincher speaks to the depth of this edition.
Because while Hart is a top-notch goalie prospect, there was no clear superstar skater on the squad. This was a collective of very good players who found different heroes at different times to go the distance. It’s easy to say that Canada had a fortuitous path to the final, drubbing Switzerland and the Czechs along the way, but the Canadians also put themselves in that position by winning their group.
For Sweden, it was heartbreak once again. The program hasn’t won the last game of its tournament since 2012, when the Swedes won gold in Calgary, but they certainly deserved a better fate tonight. Led by Gustavsson, Rasmus Dahlin and Tim Soderlund (CHI), the team was just as crisp as Canada, but suffered a streak of penalty-kills in the third that hampered their efforts.
“We did everything we could tonight,” said Dahlin, the top prospect in the 2018 draft. “I’m pissed off.”
Needless to say, Hart had the opposite mindset. The netminder said that he dwelled on last year’s loss for a couple of days before moving on and obviously this triumph erases the sting.
“Coming into this tournament there was definitely a job that needed to be finished,” he said. “We approached this game with the right mindset and everything that happened in the past was behind us.”
Now, everything is simply golden.