American Rocco Grimaldi celebrates his first goal against Sweden with… (Nathan Denette / Canadian…)
Team USA won the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships on Saturday, riding two goals by Southern California native Rocco Grimaldi and another strong goaltending effort by Ducks prospect John Gibson to a 3-1 victory over defending champion Sweden at Ufa, Russia.
Gibson, drafted by the Ducks in 2011, was voted the top goalie and the most valuable player of the tournament, which features the world’s top under-20-year-old players. The competition, always interesting as a preview of future NHL stars, provided welcome entertainment for hockey fans who have missed the game during the labor dispute that has delayed the NHL season at least through Jan. 14.
Grimaldi, an undersized but skilled forward who had trouble earning ice time earlier in the tournament, scored his goals less than three minutes apart in the second period. Sweden had scored its lone goal early in the period, during a power play.
The 5-foot-6 Grimaldi, who was chosen by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the 2011 entry draft, controlled the puck and squeezed a shot into the small space between Swedish goalie Niklas Lundstrom and the post to tie the score 7 minutes and 42 seconds into the second period.
Grimaldi, who refined his game by playing for the U.S. national team development program and the University of North Dakota, gave the U.S. the lead by deflecting home a shot by teammate Jacob Trouba, an impressive defenseman who was drafted by the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets last June.
The U.S. was credited with its final goal with 16 seconds to play after Sweden pulled its goaltender and a Swedish player threw his stick in an attempt to keep a shot by Vincent Trocheck out of the net. The goal was awarded to Trocheck, also a Panthers draft pick.
Trouba was voted the tournament's top defenseman and won a place on the tournament’s all-star team, along with teammates Gibson, defenseman Jake McCabe and forward John Gaudreau. Canada’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sweden’s Filip Forsberg were the other honorees.
During a postgame conference call with reporters, Gibson credited the U.S. defense for making his job easier and said being voted the tournament MVP was "cool" but ranked second to winning the gold medal as a team. He finished with a 1.36 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said Gibson, who added that he has always drawn motivation from being cut from various youth teams while growing up in the Pittsburgh area.
"We kept getting better and better, and the team that gets better is the team that usually wins the tournament."
Gibson also praised Grimaldi for contributing in many areas before he scored his first two goals of the tournament on Saturday.
"It's nice to see him get the golden goal and play really well and have a breakout game," Gibson said.
Gibson said his travel plans would put him on a plane back to North America later on Saturday and eventually back to Kitchener, Canada, where he plays in the Ontario Hockey League.
"I'm definitely going to enjoy it tonight and definitely still enjoy it whenever I get back to Kitchener," he said.
Team USA had some shaky moments in the preliminary round but rallied to beat Slovakia and the Czech Republic before routing Canada in the semifinals to reach Saturday’s final. Coached by Phil Housley, a former standout NHL defenseman, Team USA gathered strength and confidence as the tournament went along and was solid in every aspect of the game.
Russia defeated Canada, 6-5, in the bronze medal game, sending the Canadians home from this tournament without a medal for the first time since 1998.
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