McKenna sparks Canada to gold
by Lucas AYKROYD|05 MAY 2024
With a hat trick and assist from Gavin McKenna (#9), Canada rallied for a dramatic 6-4 gold-medal win over the U.S. at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Espoo, Finland.
In an instant classic, Canada scored four third-period goals for a 6-4 comeback win over the U.S. in the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship gold medal game. The 16-year-old sensation Gavin McKenna led the way with three goals and an assist.

Coach Gardiner MacDougall's Canadians capitalized three times on a five-minute power play after U.S. forward Trevor Connelly was ejected for checking to the head of Ryder Ritchie.

"Truly, it feels amazing," said Canadian captain Porter Martone. "We fought back there in the third period and really dug deep and came away with a gold medal. And that's all that matters."

In front of a sold-out Espoo crowd of 5,800, shots favoured the U.S. 35-25. The Americans could have pulled away in the second period, with a 19-5 shots edge, if not for Canadian goalie Carter George's heroics. It was a stunning defeat for coach Nick Fohr's troops, who, like Canada, entered the final unbeaten and had hoped to defend their crown from 2023.

"The best feeling in the world," McKenna said. "You know, it's a family in that room there. George kept us in it when we needed him. And just from our defence to our offence, we were all clicking, and that's an unbelievable feeling. I'll remember this forever."

"There's not a lot that I can say right now," said the U.S.'s Christian Humphreys. "I think we played a great game of hockey, It's just that we weren't disciplined enough, and it cost us."

It’s Canada’s fifth U18 Worlds gold medal ever, moving the motherland of hockey one up on host Finland (four). Canada last won in 2021. The Americans remain tops with 11 gold medals in total.

The U.S.'s James Hagens, named MVP, was held pointless in the final. The 17-year-old centre finished with a tournament-high, all-time record 22 points, followed closely by McKenna, who had 20 points.

Martone praised McKenna, who might next strut his stuff at the 2025 World Juniors in Ottawa: "Every game that we come into, he just wows me even more. He came away with a hat trick there, a couple of big goals for us, and really played a crucial 200-foot game for us. He's incredible, and I had the honor to play with him."

Canada signalled its physical intentions in the first minute when blueliner Charlie Elick sent Teddy Stiga sprawling at centre ice. The U.S. assistant captain lay on the ice and then skated off in some discomfort. After a video review, the officials slapped Elick with a tripping minor. George was ready when Cole Eiserman tested him from the right faceoff circle with his patented one-timer.

Nearing the 11-minute mark, Hagens came calling twice in rapid succession, but couldn’t outwit the Canadian netminder. George also said no on lightning solo dashes by top-scoring blueliner Cole Hutson and Max Plante.

Carrying the play with speed, the U.S. drew first blood with 0:52 left in the opening stanza. With the U.S. on the forecheck, defenceman Logan Hensler got the puck down the right wall to Humphreys, who carried it out of the corner to the net front and then tapped in his fourth goal of these U18 Worlds in a scrum.

Ritchie tied up it up at 5:31 of the second period with a nice bit of deception. The Prince Albert Raiders star took a long Matthew Schaefer pass with speed in the neutral zone, blazed down right wing on a 2-on-1 with Tij Iginla, and looked to his linemate before sniping it high past U.S. starter Nicholas Kempf.

The U.S., which came in with the tournament's top power play (52 percent), struck back three minutes later. With Martone serving a high-sticking minor, Eiserman finally converted a Hutson feed with his deadly one-timer. It lifted him past Cole Caufield for the all-time USA Hockey National Team Development Program lead (127 to 126).

George alertly stymied Brenden McMorrow on the doorstep to keep it a one-goal game. But the Americans grabbed a 3-1 lead at 13:04. Shane Vansaghi lugged the puck down left wing and backhanded a sweet cross-ice feed from behind the goal line to the unchecked Hutson, who had jumped in off the bench. He made no mistake.

Still, there was no quit in the Canadians. McKenna, with Hutson off for hooking, exploded off the left wall to knife an electrifying backhander past Kempf and cut the deficit to 3-2 at 15:40.

Seconds later, George absolutely robbed Hagens with a sprawling stick save on an open net.

"For us, it would have been a lot nicer if a couple more pucks had gone in, and tonight, it just didn't happen," Humphreys said.

Nearing the seven-minute mark of the third period, Kempf performed some larceny of his own during a Canadian power play, coming across for an unreal glove save on Martone.

After Connelly's ejection, McKenna equalized at 10:25 with a lethal slapper from the high slot. He tugged the Maple Leaf on his chest as he celebrated at the bench.

With 46 seconds left in the major, Canada went up 4-3 at 13:40 when Beaudoin barged to the net to finish off a passing play with Ritchie and Jett Luchanko.

Iginla went top shelf for the third consecutive Canadian power play goal just 39 seconds later. But the Americans weren't done yet. Captain Brodie Ziemer made it 5-4 on a nice redirect at 15:36.

With under three minutes to play, the U.S. pulled Kempf for the extra attacker. However, McKenna completed his hat trick with the empty-netter at 18:42, taking over the tournament goals lead (10). The Canadian party was on.

Fohr declined to criticize Connelly for the major penalty: "It's never been one play. It's never on one player. This is a team game."

Eiserman, whose nine goals tied him with Hagens for second overall, reflected on the loss: "The [team] brotherhood means more than any medal or anything that comes with winning or losing. But obviously it stings a lot, because we know how hard we've worked, and the USA motto is always go for gold. So it's tough, for sure."

Despite the loss, the Americans now have an all-time record 20 U18 Worlds medals: 11 gold, six silver, and three bronze.

Who will top the podium at the 2025 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship? After this thrilling final, fans, media, and NHL scouts are already looking forward to that tournament in the United States.
USA vs CAN - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship