On Wednesday afternoon, the 2023 World Junior Championship kicked off semi-final action, with Sweden taking on Czechia with a chance to play in the gold medal game. These two teams met in the round-robin, with Ludvig Jansson‘s overtime game-winner being the difference in a 3-2 Sweden win.
After escaping a thrilling contest against Finland 3-2 in the quarterfinal, the Swedes found themselves in another semi-final, hoping to win a medal to defend at next year’s tournament in Gothenburg, Sweden. Meanwhile, Czechia returned to the final four after losing 5-2 to Canada last season, hoping to earn their first medal since 2005.
Sweden grabbed a 1-0 lead at 1:39 of the second period and clung to it for the remainder of the game, turning away 14 Czechia shots in the third period. Unfortunately, a weak goal with 39 seconds left forced the contest into overtime, where the Swedish players had the best chances in the 3-on-3 session.
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Czechia’s Jiri Kulich tallied the overtime winner guaranteeing his team’s first medal in more than a decade with a shot that found a hole under the arm of Sweden’s Carl Lindbom. Here are three takeaways from a game filled with many emotions and heartbreak.
Sweden’s Lack of Killer Instinct Cost Them Golden Opportunity
Sweden’s inability to capitalize on the powerplay at the 2023 tournament is the sole reason they did not advance to the gold medal game. During the semi-final, in the second period, Czechia took two penalties within five seconds of one another, gifting Sweden a 5-on-3 advantage. At this point, Sweden, who were ahead 1-0 on the scoreboard, was 0-1 on the powerplay with no shots on goal.
Successful teams find ways to score timely goals and bury opponents when the time calls for it. Unfortunately, Sweden failed to score on this golden opportunity, which allowed Czechia to hang around and gain momentum from the successful penalty kill that resulted in only four shots on the net.
In Canada, TSN broadcasts have a segment called “TSN Turning Point,” which usually dissects a pivotal moment in the game that significantly affects the contest’s outcome. Today’s turning point was easily the missed opportunity on the man advantage in the second period, which would have given Sweden a 2-0 lead. Instead, the lack of killer instinct on the power play, which relied too much on passes than shots on goal, cost the nordic team a chance for a gold medal.
Sweden now has a chance to defend their bronze medal on Thursday against the loser of the Canada and United States semi-final. However, this year’s team runs the risk of returning home as the 2024 tournament hosts without a medal if they can’t find that killer instinct.
Jansson Remains Sweden’s Most Lethal Offensive Threat
Sweden faced off against Czechia twice in the 2023 World Junior Championship, with each team swapping overtime victories. Coincidentally, the Swedes scored four goals in the two contests, three off the stick of Jansson, one of the country’s unlikeliest heroes.
So far, in 2022-23 with Södertälje SK in HockeyAllsvenskan, Jansson has six points in 25 games with just a single goal. However, in six games at this tournament, he’s been driving the Swedish offense from the blue line with four goals and eight points on eight shots.
Sweden has a handful of elite prospects like Fabian Lysell, Isak Rosén, and Leo Carlsson on the roster, yet the Florida Panthers’ fourth-round pick in 2021 has scored as many points as the three combined. Lysell (Boston Bruins) and Rosén (Buffalo Sabres) are first-round picks, while Carlsson is on pace to go as a top-five selection in the upcoming 2023 Draft. Together, the forwards tallied four goals and four assists, with Carlsson scoring his first tournament goal in the quarterfinal against Finland.
Sweden’s inability to advance to the gold medal game is because the team’s star players had quiet tournaments. Coincidentally, the only reason the team managed to get into a medal game is that an unsung hero like Jansson stepped up and scored timely goals. Thankfully, at the end of the game, he was named to Sweden’s Top 3 Player on Team, an honor he rightfully deserves for carrying a team who ultimately underperformed at the 2023 tournament.
Lindbom’s Spectacular Run Hits a Snag
Lindbom is a seventh-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, who recently attended their prospect camp. Although he has a long path to the NHL, he’s proven at the 2023 tournament that he is a highly skilled netminder with a bright future ahead.
In the round-robin, Lindbom opened the tournament with back-to-back shutouts before Czechia managed to get two goals past him. After that game, he gave up five against Canada, who dominated the contest from start to finish. Thankfully, the off-game didn’t shake his confidence since he rebounded in the quarterfinals, carrying a sluggish Swedish team into the third period. However, his cinderella run at this year’s tournament took a significant blow in the semi-final.
In the dying seconds of a 1-0 contest, Czechia’s David Jiricek managed to tie the contest with a shot that trickled under Lindbom’s right pad and into the back of the net. To say it was one of the softest goals against is an understatement since his save percentage (.942) is the best among his peers at the tournament. He was 39 seconds away from securing his third shutout in six games and punching his team’s ticket to the gold medal game. Instead, forced into another overtime game, Lindbom’s sharpness got tested, resulting in an overtime goal that snuck under his right arm.
It was a heartbreaking moment for a young man who kept his team in every game, despite the offense never playing to their potential. Sadly, most fans will only remember this overtime goal and forget all the key saves he made to get his team back into the final four. Although his tournament is far from over, Lindbom faces an extremely talented Canada or United States team for a shot at winning his second consecutive bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.