EDMONTON, Alberta-- One of the most exciting times for hockey fans worldwide is during the holiday season, especially when future NHL stars hit the ice for the World Junior Championships.
The 2021 World Juniors were different, however, with the tournament being impacted by COVID-19. Teams had to undergo daily tests and temperature checks, wear mandatory masks off ice, along with wearable technology that could track players and potential exposure to the virus.
In addition, teams had to quarantine before arriving in the Edmonton bubble and once they got to the host city. Also, zero spectators were allowed to attend one of the most passionate annual tournaments.
Playing for gold and representing your country in such an uncertain and tough time period reached new heights this tournament as countries rallied to support their national squads.
It was Team USA that triumphed over all others in the tournament this year as they defeated team Canada in the gold-medal game, 2-0.
The United States had one lone hiccup during the tournament and that on Christmas Eve when they lost to Russia 5-3. It was a game that got away from team USA as goaltender Spencer Knight was pulled in that matchup after allowing four goals.
Since then Knight was outstanding, posting three shutouts including the biggest one in the gold-medal game as he stonewalled a star-studded Canadian team.
While Knight finished the tournament with a 1.63 goals-against average, it was Trevor Zegras that carried the offensive load for team USA.
In the gold-medal game, Zegras put the United States up 2-0 just 32 seconds into the second period as he stuffed home a loose rebound behind Devon Levi. That was all team USA needed to reach its first gold medal since the 2017 World Juniors.
All tournament long, Zegras was a potent threat as he totaled 18 points including seven goals. The Anaheim Ducks have a potential superstar on their hands once he reaches the NHL level.
The Boston University product has etched his name in United States World Juniors history, becoming the second-highest point-getter in a single tournament since Doug Weight registered 19 in 1991.
Not only did Zegras put the USA ahead by two goals, but he added the secondary assist on the first goal of the contest that went in via a redirection from Los Angeles Kings prospect Alex Turcotte.
A talented Canadian team started slowly in the gold medal game, but team USA had an answer for every blow they delivered down the stretch.
While Canada relied on Devon Levi’s stellar play, along with the electric speed and scoring from up and down their roster, the United States played a more structured game that allowed them to prevail in the end.
Canada never trailed in the tournament until Turcotte’s opening goal in the gold-medal bout as that proved to put Canada in an unfamiliar spot that they could not recover from.
The United States now adds five gold medals to their World Juniors resume following the fourth time they defeated team Canada in the gold-medal game.
Although it was a low scoring and tightly contested game, this contest can go down in the history books as the United States upset arguably one of the best and most complete Canadian World Junior teams ever.