Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

2024 WORLD JUNIORS CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINALS – January 4th, 2024 – Game Recaps + Three Stars

Theo Lindstein of Sweden during the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship semi final between Sweden and Czech Republic on January 4, 2024 in Gothenburg.
Photo: Jesper Zerman / BILDBYRÅN

Germany 5, Norway 4 (OT)

This year’s relegation battle was a compelling one, with both teams fighting to the last breath in order to punch their ticket to Ottawa for next year’s tournament. The stakes of the game were apparent from the early first period, which was a more conservative affair as neither team wanted to make the kind of tone-setting mistake that would doom them to relegation. The Germans finally broke the ice halfway through with a Kevin Bicker goal on the rush. In what would prove to be a theme of the game: just as it felt the Germans might take control of the contest with a goal, the Norwegians fought right back and proved they wouldn’t be an easy out.

That script repeated itself in the following two periods. In the second, the Germans gained the upper hand with a tie-breaking tally, but the Norwegians leveled the game before the period ended. In the third, the Germans looked to have finally separated after a brutal turnover from Stian Stolberg gave them a two-goal lead, but the Norwegians were determined not to go quietly into the night. A final push from Norway culminated in a tying goal from Mats Bakke Olsen. Had the Germans lost their composure in the process, they very well could have been the relegated team. But ultimately in overtime, an impressive shift from Moritz Elias guided the Germans not only to victory in this game but to entry into the 2025 WJC.

Sweden 5, Czechia 2

A second consecutive upset was not to be for the Czechs, who ultimately saw themselves doomed by the same player who had played so brilliantly against Canada: netminder Michael Hrabal. Hrabal’s high glove side was identified by the Swedes to be an area of weakness for the team to target, and they did exactly that in the first two periods. The Czechs got out to an early lead, but their momentum was stifled when a point shot ricocheted off Hrabal’s glove into the back of the net. Hrabal had an impressive sequence after that to keep the game tied, but the Swedes had nonetheless found what they believed to be Hrabal’s Achilles’ Heel.

They once again targeted that on an early power play in the second period, and a lofted shot from the point from Axel Sandin-Pellikka sailed past Hrabal’s glove. The Czechs punched back on their own powerplay a little bit later in the period, but the game became more and more dominated in terms of possession by the Swedes. With a raucous crowd behind them, Sweden would have multiple extended stays in the Czech offensive zone, and Hrabal was under siege for much of the later stages of the period. One of the most lethal shooters in the entire tournament, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, broke the tie with a rocket of a power play goal, and later Theo Lindstein’s deft stretch pass broke Noah Ostlund out for a breakaway goal to give the Swedes much-needed breathing room. Czechia were firmly on their back foot from that point, and they became swarmed in their defensive zone by Swedish pressure. Lekkerimaki fired another one-timer into the back of the net just over a minute after Ostlund’s goal and lifted the roof off of the Scandinavium. With a dominant performance in the second half of the game, the Swedes had inarguably earned the right to play for gold.

United States 3, Finland 2

The United States has not lost in this year’s World Juniors, but in the early part of this semifinal, they looked as vulnerable as they’ve ever been. The relentlessness and physicality of the Finns proved to be a struggle for the undersized American defense. The Finns seized on early mistakes from both defensemen such as Sam Rinzel and goaltender Trey Augustine to take a quick 2-0 lead into the first intermission. But after that period, Augustine settled into the game and the Americans found a way to return to the style of play that had made them so successful. They utilized their aggressive, activating defensemen such as Lane Hutson, Seamus Casey, and Zeev Buium to place an immense amount of pressure on the Finn, and quickly into the second period the ice began to tilt strongly in their favor. An absolute howitzer from Jimmy Snuggerud getting the Americans on the board almost felt like an inevitability after how the Team USA spent the first 10 minutes of the second period. A dominant shift from Will Smith and his line got the Americans the tying goal they needed, and from that point, it was a brand-new game. Augustine had answers for every Finnish chance, and when the whistles tightened up in the third and each team got onto a late-game power play, it was the United States’ high-end offensive talent that carried them. A wicked shot from tournament scoring leader Cutter Gauthier gave Team USA the lead with just three minutes to go, and the Americans withstood a final push from Finland to earn the right to play the Swedes for the gold medal.

Three Stars of the Day

#1 Theo Lindstein

Theo Lindstein has been exceptional in this tournament alongside Tom Willander, with their pairing capable of dictating the flow of the game whenever they step onto the ice. Lindstein was a force on both ends of the ice against the Czechs, and his stretch pass to turn a Czech turnover into a game-changing breakaway goal for Noah Ostlund stood out as a particular highlight. Not only did he set the tone for the game by scoring the first goal for Sweden, a goal that clearly identified Hrabal’s high glove side as an area for the Swedes to successfully target, but he also logged the most minutes of any Swedish blueliner today. Now leading the tournament in scoring by a defenseman, Lindstein put an exclamation mark on what has been an extremely strong WJC right on his home turf. He’ll need to be at his best once again for the Swedes to stand the best possible chance of winning tomorrow against an offensively gifted Team USA.

#2 Jonathan Lekkerimaki

When the Swedes needed a big goal today, Lekkerimaki delivered. The electric sniper gave Sweden its first lead of the day with a power play one-timer, and the goal was of particular importance in the contest. Not only did it give Sweden a crucial lead and help end the blow-for-blow even duel the team had been fighting to that point, the way it was scored was also useful in terms of momentum. To that point in the game, Sweden’s goals had come from mistakes made by Hrabal. For some, it may have seemed that the Swedes simply wouldn’t have produced anything offensively had the Czechs not been subject to a few costly errors made in the crease. In other words, one could reasonably credit the first two Swedish goals as flukes, mistakes made by Hrabal that were unlikely to be repeated. But Lekkerimaki’s goal was no fluke: it proved that Sweden had what it took to beat the Czechs with their talent, rather than just luck and taking advantage of mistakes. From that point on, Lekkerimaki’s team had the game by the reins. His dagger of a goal later in the third all but ended any chance the Czechs might mount a comeback, cementing today as one of the best in Lekkerimaki’s young career.

#3 Will Smith

The Americans’ comeback victory over Finland was definitely a collective effort, one where Team USA’s high-end talent ultimately proved to be too much to handle. But although Cutter Gauthier had the most memorable moment with his game-winning goal, his moment was built off of two strong periods of work from Smith. Smith played a role in both of the Americans’ goals that got the game tied. He helped draw the Finns’ attention to his side of the ice on an early second-period power play, helping pave the way for a momentum-shifting Jimmy Snuggerud one-timer. His growing two-way chops as well as his chemistry with his Boston College linemates shined through on the team’s second goal. He knew exactly where to move and how to move to be in the perfect position for a Gabe Perreault set-up pass, and he made it so that once Perreault identified the right passing option, the tying goal had effectively already been scored. The Americans might be in the gold medal game because of a goal from someone else, but they very well may not have even been in a position to tie the game without a strong game from Smith.