With the men’s Worlds set to kick off in Tampere and Riga (12 to 28 May), let’s take a look back at the action in Basel and Porrentruy and tip our hats to the kids one more time. Here are 7 highlights of the U18 Worlds.
1. New meaning for “double overtime”If you thought the U18 Worlds medals day was even more exciting than usual, you weren’t kidding yourself. First, Macklin Celebrini scored the overtime winner on a dazzling deke as Canada downed Slovakia 4-3 for the bronze medal. And then, Ryan Leonard scored the overtime winner on the rush as the U.S. rallied to top Sweden 3-2 for the gold medal.
This marks the first time in IIHF history – including both men’s and women’s Olympic, U20, and U18 competitions – that both medal games were decided on overtime goals.
2023 was truly a treat for fans of the 3-on-3 sudden-death format.
2. A line for the agesWhen Jack Hughes (20 points), his linemate Cole Caufield (18 points), and Matthew Boldy (12 points) finished 1-2-3 in scoring at the 2019 U18 Worlds in Sweden, it looked unlikely we’d witness three U.S.seemed players combining for that many points again anytime soon.
Then Will Smith (20 points) and his linemates Gabe Perreault (18 points) and Ryan Leonard (17 points) came along to one-up the 2019 boys.
Their instinctive playmaking, combined with a commitment to two-way hockey, made them one of the most enjoyable lines to watch in U18 Worlds history.
3. The kids are all rightWho will be picked #1 overall in the 2024 NHL Draft? Two highly skilled forwards, Canada’s Macklin Celebrini and the U.S.’s Cole Eiserman, both made strong early cases at age 16.
Celebrini (6+9=15) got better and better as the tournament wore on, scoring the opening goal in all three Canadian medal round games. Eiserman (9+2=11) came out of the gate blazing hot and tied Will Smith for the overall goals lead. His lightning release led to Carey Terrance’s tying goal versus Sweden with just 3:16 left in regulation in the gold medal game.
4. Slovakia is coming backThe Slovak U18 national team couldn’t capture a bronze medal as the Olympic team did last year in Beijing. Yet they were just 1:10 away from doing so with a 3-2 lead on Canada in the third-place game before Matthew Wood’s equalizer sent it to overtime.
At this tournament, Slovak fans relished the heroics of players like leading scorer Dalibor Dvorsky (8+5=13), captain Maxim Strbak (a tournament-leading average of 25:44 per game), and goalie Samuel Urban (206 saves, the most at these U18 Worlds).
5. Offensive defencemen are all the rageIt’s no coincidence that the two 2023 finalists both excelled at activating their D-men.
For the U.S., all-star Cole Hutson was a threat almost every time he carried the puck out of his own zone. The 171-cm, 71-cm younger brother of Lane Hutson – a 2022 U18 Worlds silver medalist and also an all-star – led all blueliners in scoring (1+11=12). And fellow American Zeev Buium (1+5=6) stepped up with big plays in the medal round, including the point shot Danny Nelson tipped in to jumpstart the comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the gold medal game.
Similarly, the Swedes got huge contributions from the mobile and fearless Axel Sandin Pellikka (2+9=11) – named Best Defenceman – and Tom Willander (3+5=8).
6. Timing is everythingAfter getting outscored 28-3 through four preliminary round losses, Norway’s odds of surviving the relegation round didn’t exactly look as bright as the midnight sun.
Their German opponents also had a dismal goal difference (24-5). But they’d at least given Slovakia a brave fight in a 6-4 loss – Germany led 4-2 at one point – and made life hard for Sweden when they fell 3-0, the latter being a scoreless tie for more than 50 minutes.
However, the Norwegians timed things perfectly.
7. Sweden remains on the right trackShock and heartbreak are natural reactions when you’re leading the gold medal game 2-0 with just over 10 minutes left in the third period – and then lose 3-2 in overtime. Especially when you’re the defending champs and it’s your first defeat of the entire tournament.
However, apart from that lapse, coach Anders Eriksen’s 2023 Swedish squad shouldn’t harbour regrets about their silver-medal run in Basel and Porrentruy. Game in and game out, they dominated at both ends of the ice.