Czechs, USA set for rematch
by Chris JUREWICZ|30 JAN 2024
USA players celebrate with goalkeeper Xavier Wendt USA after winning the penalty shootout to advance to the gold medal game in the Ice Hockey Men’s 6-on-6 Tournament Semifinals between Canada and USA at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Winter Youth Olympic Games, Gangwon, South Korea, Tuesday 30 January 2024.
photo: © OIS (Olympic Information Service) / Thomas Lovelock
Gangneung Hockey Centre, GANGWON, South Korea – The United States seems to have a flair for the dramatics at the Youth Olympic Games’ men’s hockey tournament.

Following a 6-5 shootout loss to Czechia in the team’s final preliminary-round game, the Americans ended up on the good side of a shootout win when it mattered most, beating Canada 6-5 in a semifinal and booking a spot in the gold medal game. To make it even better, USA will have a shot at revenge against the Czechs, who defeated Finland 3-1 to also earn a spot in the championship final.

“A great game, a tremendous team. To be in that scenario and come out with a win is something special. I will never forget it,” says JP Hurlbert, the hero in the semifinal win as his shootout goal was the difference against Canada. “We trusted our defence. Xavier (Wendt) played the best goalie game I have ever seen in my life.
“You know, we trust everybody and it’s the little things, blocking shots, getting (the puck) out. It was a complete team effort. Nobody was selfish, it was just a great team win.”

Although Hurlbert was the hero, American goaltender Wendt deserves a ton of praise for keeping his team in the game. He faced 42 shots, stopped 37 of them, and then turned away three Canadian shootout attempts for the win. Canada outshot Team USA 42-17 so the story could have been different if it weren’t for the play of Wendt.

The teams played a scoreless first period before Parker Trottier – grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan – opened the scoring 1:39 into the second. Canada’s Alessandro di Iorio tied things up at 1-1 40 seconds later and then the United States took a 3-1 lead into the third on goals by Hurlbert and Shaeffer Gordon-Carroll.
Mathis Preston scored two goals for Canada in the third and Trottier and Mikey Berchild replied for the United States as it held a 5-4 lead late in the game. Canada forced the shootout when Zachary Nyman’s shot beat Wendt with just over two minutes left.

“I’m very proud of our team and their effort the entire game,” says USA head coach Joe Bonnett. “All three lines and six defense contributed and Xavier Wendt had an outstanding game. The team chemistry is really coming together and we look forward to playing in the championship game against Czechia.”

The Czechs reached the gold medal game on the strength of a strong second period against Finland. The game was scoreless after one but a powerplay goal by Vaclav Nedorost and even-strength goals by Simon Belohorsky and Filip Novak gave the Czechs a comfortable 3-0 lead after two.

Finland’s Viljo Kahkonen made it 3-1 4:32 into the third but Jan Larys would shut the door from there, stopping 11 of 12 shots he faced in the final frame (24 of 25 total) for the win. Pyry Lammi was strong in the Finnish net, with 30 saves on 33 shots.

Czech captain Ondrej Ruml, who had an assist in the semifinal, says his team has bonded in South Korea and can’t wait to play for gold.

“I was a little bit worried (at 0-0 after the first period) but we believed we were going to do it. Our team has a very strong mentality. We are good friends and we spend all the time together in the Village,” he says. “We play some games, board games, activity. It’s very fun.  And we play video games and table tennis. We are having table tennis competitions.”

The United States will attempt to win its second gold medal in men’s hockey at the Youth Olympic Games, having accomplished the feat in 2016. Team USA lost the 2020 final to Russia. The Czechs, meanwhile, will play in the gold medal game for the first time and, regardless of the result, will win its first-ever medal at the YOG.

Canada and Finland will meet for bronze for the second-straight YOG, with Canada winning the 2020 bronze game by a 4-2 score. The Finns will play for bronze for the third-straight time at these Games.

“(Representing Canada) is a huge honour, but obviously we would have liked a different outcome against the United States,” says Preston, who had two goals in the third against USA. “We are going to come back with a purpose and do our best to win bronze. Everything in Gangwon from the food to the village has been amazing, and this has been an unreal experience.”
Japan, Sweden to meet for gold on the women’s side

A women’s hockey rivalry will be renewed in the gold medal game at the women’s ice hockey tournament, as Japan will face off against Sweden for the second-straight time at the Youth Olympic Games.

Japan defeated Sweden to win gold in 2020 in Lausanne.

Sweden booked a ticket to the gold medal game with a solid performance in the semifinals, dispatching the Germans 6-1.

Tilde Grillfors had two goals and an assist, Ebba Westerlind had two helpers, and Malva Lindgren and Nova Svanefjord each had a goal and an assist to lead the way for the Swedes. Team defence also played a large role in the win, as Sweden allowed just 12 shots in the game, with Tilde Wyckman stopping 11 of those.

Sweden led 1-0 after one and then took control with three goals in the second period, adding two more in the third for good measure.

“We set the goal to take the gold medal and now we are in the final. It feels amazing,” says Westerlind of Team Sweden.

Japan’s road to gold was a bit bumpier as it snuck by a tough Swiss team, 2-1. Norina Muller gave Switzerland a 1-0 lead 10:06 into the first but, just 32 seconds later, the Japanese tied it on a goal by Momona Fukuzawa.

The game was decided just over nine minutes into the third. Japan had a powerplay and Umeka Odaira carried the puck into the Swiss zone, made a perfect pass to the high slot to Azumi Numabe, who made no mistake with a quick snap shot that beat Valentina Camenzind. Japan stifled Switzerland in the final period, allowing the Swiss only two shots.

Switzerland will play for bronze for the third-straight time at the Youth Olympic Games, losing in 2020 and winning in 2016. Germany will attempt to win its first medal in women’s hockey at the Games since grabbing bronze in 2012 in Innsbruck.