By Kris Baker for Sabres.com
The 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship concluded Friday with Canada winning the gold medal with a 3-1 triumph over Sweden, and Team USA's Casey Mittelstadt earning the tournament's Most Valuable Player honors.
Gold Medal Game
In the championship game, Sabres prospects Marcus Davidsson (2017, second round) and Alexander Nylander (2016, first round) were unable to produce offensively for Sweden in the loss, with each registering a minus-1 rating.
Davidsson produced one shot in his 13:40 of work, while Nylander contributed three shots on goal while skating for 13:52 for a Sweden team that played a very strong game only to see things fall apart in the final two minutes.
A utility forward for the first six games of the tournament, Davidsson saw his workload increase as the game progressed with Lias Andersson (NYR) battling an upper-body issue. He was out on the ice for the game-winning goal with less than two minutes to play as defended high between the circles on a play that was finished at the side of the net.
Sabres fans should walk away from the tournament feeling good about Davidsson's hard-working performance. He didn't set the world on fire, producing one goal, two assists, and 11 shots on goal in the Swedes' seven-game run to silver, nor was placed in a marquee role, but his pace and attention to detail were exceptional down the middle. He finished through the body and proved to be rather efficient in his pursuit of the puck.
As he continues to find his game in his return from an early season injury, Nylander heads back to Rochester likely feeling like he needed to do more in the tournament despite tying for the team lead with seven points. In the seven games, Nylander connected for one power-play goal on 23 total shots and six assists.
After Canada took a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute, Nylander responded with a string of shifts that saw him possess the puck with speed, come back to the zone with equal gusto, and show urgency in his actions. The Canadians kept good gaps on him all game long and employed active sticks whenever he carried the puck, though, disrupting his one-on-one moves and pushing him to the outside to limit his even-strength effectiveness.
The difference between an extremely talented Sweden team winning gold or silver ultimately came down to which team's top players showed more "want" in their games.
While Nylander's instances of getting to the inside lanes and backtracking with vigor were encouraging, the Swedes simply needed to get more out him and others like Elias Pettersson (VAN) and Andersson for the full sixty minutes to beat an equally talented Canada squad.
A load of skill is in play, so now the fire of losing should theoretically prove to be a learning tool that helps achieve professional goals.
Bronze Medal Game
In the first game of the day, Mittelstadt (2017, first round) added one assist and four shots on goal to his tournament totals as the United States claimed the bronze medal with a 9-3 blowout victory over the Czech Republic.
Mittelstadt made a play in the opening minutes of the contest that was a microcosm of his tournament as had a puck behind the net and quickly looked up with a defender draped on him before slipping a quick pass to the edge of the crease to 2018 draft prospect Brady Tkachuk for a prime opportunity.
The sequence was a snapshot of Mittelstadt's competitiveness and playmaking skill set that helped him earn four goals and 11 points in the tournament's seven games.
The Minnesota product captured his assist early in the second period when he circled with the puck and sent puck to the goal line to Tkachuk, whose centering feed bounced off the skate of Joey Anderson (NJD) and into the Czech net to put the Americans up 3-0.
Mittelstadt, who the day before was tabbed as one of the three best Americans in the tournament, was named MVP and Best Forward in the entire tournament while earning a spot on the Tournament All-Star Team.
Czech defenseman Vojtech Budik (2016, fifth round) logged a minus-2 rating in the loss to the Americans. Only one other Czech skater logged more ice time than Budik, with the Prince Albert Raiders stalwart receiving 21:35 of work.
With the U.S. dominating with an extra jump in their step, it would have been easy for Budik to chase the play and leave lanes open to give the attackers extra room to maneuver. Instead, Budik continued to focus on his positioning like he did for the entire tournament, relying on his teammates to execute their roles while he defended his checks.
A classic case of stay-at-home simplicity leading to production, Budik finished fifth among all defensemen in the tournament with five points, all assists, in the seven games while recording just five shots on goal. His game was defense-first with an emphasis on quick decisions and accurate passes out of the zone.