Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
WJC: Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki scores twice as Sweden punches their ticket to gold medal game
By Dave Hall1 month ago
In pursuit of their first Gold Medal game appearance since 2018, Sweden faced off against Czechia in the World Junior Championship.
Eager to overcome back-to-back semi-final exits, Sweden aimed to make a statement, especially with Czechia having knocked them out in last year’s semi-final.
Sweden had history to their advantage with an 18-2-1 record, but in the World Juniors, anything can happen.
The first period was relatively stingy and saw both teams trading chances, with each goaltender allowing goals they’d likely want back. Czechia was playing with house money in this game, as all the pressure fell on the Swedes to perform. And after 20 minutes, the teams were locked in a 1-1 tie.
The second period brought increased intensity, with Sweden, led by Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki, creating several dangerous opportunities. Weak goals were exchanged once again, leaving the teams deadlocked at two after 40 minutes. For the second straight period, the pressure began to pile on the Swedes. Without a comfortable lead, you could feel a tensity looming in the match.
The third period became the turning point, where Sweden, propped up by Lekkerimäki’s sharpshooting, asserted dominance.
After drawing a crucial penalty himself, Lekkerimäki set up shop from his usual spot and unleashed another deadly one-timer, breaking the tie to give Sweden the lead. It’s safe to say he tore the roof off of the “Scandinavium”.
Building on the momentum, Sweden continued to apply pressure, and Noah Östlund secured insurance, sending a breath of relief throughout the entire host country. Vancouver’s Tom Willander played a pivotal role by hustling back, stripping the Czechia player of the puck, and providing the assist and yet another “plus” in the plus/minus department.
Two minutes later, Lekkerimäki netted his second goal, forcing the puck through the legs of Czech netminder Michael Hrabal en route to the 5-2 victory.
With the win, Sweden books a ticket to the Gold Medal game, with hopes to secure their first tournament victory since 2012 and their first on home soil.
Next, Sweden would face the winner of the USA vs. Finland match in the quest for the coveted Gold Medal.
With semi-final exits in both of his previous World Junior attempts, Jonathan Lekkerimäki is no stranger to heartbreak at this event. And right out the gate, you could tell that he wanted it.
Although he didn’t register any shots in the initial 20 minutes, Lekkerimäki showcased a strong forecheck and maintained an impressive overall effort level.
The second period saw a notable increase in intensity from Lekkerimäki, providing him with several opportunities. Having accumulated 21 shots heading in, he added three more in the second period, all dangerous, to boot.
After buzzing for much of the game, what would happen in the third period simply felt like destiny.
After drawing a penalty, Lekkerimäki made no mistake, hammering home his fifth goal of the tournament, and fourth on the power play.
Whether it be in the SHL or at this event, the 19-year-old has been cashing in from the half-wall spot, and with his world-class release, it’s easy to see why.
Minutes later, on Noah Östlund’s insurance marker, Lekkerimäki provided good coverage, acting as the last forward back in place of Tom Willander, who was caught out of position. Although he didn’t receive an assist on the play, his contribution earned a well-deserved “plus.”
To cap off an unforgettable performance, Lekkerimäki netted his second goal of the game, forcing the puck past Michael Hrabal from the slot for his sixth of the tournament. In the final 40 minutes alone, he fired nine shots on net and each shift he spent on the ice seemed to generate scoring opportunities, making his two-goal performance feel inevitable.
Unsurprisingly, Lekkerimäki was awarded the Player of the Game and named one of Sweden’s three best players of the tournament, alongside linemate Noah Östlund and goaltender Hugo Hävelid.
Across 16:22 of ice time, he collected two goals, nine shots, and a plus-one rating.
As of now, Lekkerimäki leads the tournament in goals (6), power play goals (4), and shots (30).
After a relatively quiet performance in the quarterfinals, Tom Willander stepped up with a strong outing for Sweden in the semi-finals.
Although he didn’t directly contribute to the play leading to Sweden’s opening goal, his presence on the ice earned him another “plus” in the plus/minus department. This stat is questionable, at best, however, Willander, alongside his defensive partner Theo Lindstein, leads the tournament with an impressive plus-11 rating.
Over in the NCAA, Willander also leads the Boston University Terriers in plus/minus (plus-13), optimizing his strong defensive game.
Speaking of strong defensive plays, after an offensive spill that left him out of position on the ice, Willander delivered a crucial defensive effort after the Czechs initiated a prime rush opportunity. Thanks to his elite skating ability, he swiftly closed in on the puck carrier, executed a successful strip, and initiated a quick counterattack that led to the insurance marker by Östlund.
He would pick up his second assist and third point of the tournament through this hardworking backcheck.
Together with Lindstein, he continues to provide sound and composed defence for a near-perfect Team Sweden. As the only team in the tournament to have allowed fewer than 10 goals (9), Sweden has been picture-perfect on the defensive end. While goaltender Hugo Hävelid’s stellar performances have played a major role, the defensive duo of Willander and Lindstein has left an indelible mark on the team’s journey to success.
He picked up an assist and was a plus-three with 19:53 of ice time.
There isn’t much more to add about Elias Pettersson’s game that hasn’t been highlighted thus far. He consistently brings physicality and serves as an effective shutdown option for the Swedes on the third unit.
Pettersson found himself on the ice for the opening goal of the game, a recurring theme throughout the tournament. With the exception of two, he has been on the ice for seven of the team’s nine conceded goals.
It’s important to note that not all of these goals, including today’s, can be solely attributed to him. Sometimes, bounces just don’t go your way.
As the Swedes aim to lock up the victory in his final World Junior match, you can rely on Pettersson to maintain his tough and rugged style of play.
Today, he was a minus-one through 21:28 of ice time.
Sweden will await the results of the USA/Finland game, as they will take on the winner to set up the Gold Medal match on Friday, January 5th.
Puck drop is at 10:39 AM, Pacific Time.
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