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2024 IIHF World Junior Championship: A Recap

Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

USA Wins Gold

The U.S. National Junior Team defeated Sweden, the home team, 6-2, in the gold medal game of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship. Behind two goals from Isaac Howard (Michigan State University/Tampa Bay Lightning), as well as goals from four additional players, this win marks the sixth gold medal for the United States in tournament history, the second in the past four years.

The 24-day trip, including stops in five cities (four in Sweden), was definitely unforgettable and one for the history books. USA Hockey said on their website, “The love and affection the group had for each other was evident from the outset of the journey, and the 2024 World Juniors experience is one that everyone involved will never forget. The upbeat and jovial nature of captain Rutger McGroarty, who, along with head coach David Carle, brought togetherness and focus to the group, helped fuel what resulted in the sixth gold medal in the country’s history.” 

In the end, the 2024 U.S. National Junior Team won every game it played, including beating the host country in the gold medal game. It’s clear that they defied odds, had an incredible run, and truly made their country proud.

Photo courtesy of Christinne Muschi (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Czechia Dethrones Canada

The past two years, Canada has won gold, and has played in the gold medal game the last four. To Canada, the quarter-final game against Czechia seemed like “no biggie”. In fact, it was a mere repeat to the 2023 gold medal game, which Canada won. Czechia, on the other hand, had other plans.

Through 20 minutes, Czechia had raced out to a 2-0 lead, proving they weren’t going down without a fight. Canada tied it in the second, and belief in Czechia faltered, as it looked as though the reigning champions would continue their dominance. And, although Canada did dominate the first half of the third period, Czechia kept fighting, and secured themselves an overtime opportunity.

Andrew Podnieks, a writer for the IIHF website, describes the last key seconds in perfect detail: “As the clock counted down—15, 14, 13—it was all but certain. And then Jakub Stancl fired a quick shot at goal, just in case. Well, it hit a stick, bounced off the post, and in. Lucky to be sure, but they all count. Canada was going home, and Czechia advanced thanks to Stancl’s heroics with 11.7 seconds left in the game.”

In another report, Stancl told Podnieks, "It's unbelievable, an amazing feeling. I got the puck from Ondrej [Becher] and just tried to take it to the net. It was a lucky bounce, but these things happen sometimes."

For the first time in five years, Canada went home early, while the Czechs secured their spot in a medal game for the second consecutive year. Czechia went on to overcome a 5-2 Finland lead, scoring the only five goals of the third period to defeat Finland 8-5, and win the bronze medal. This was their second medal in two years.

Photo courtesy of USHL

Top NHL Draftees Show Up and Show Out

Sweden forward Jonathan Lekkerimaki, selected in the first round (No. 15) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2022 NHL Draft, was named the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship’s most valuable player. He had 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in seven games. The WJC Media All-Star Team, comprised of draftees and prospects, included Sweden goalie Hugo Havelid (2024 NHL Draft eligible), U.S. defenseman Lane Hutson (Montreal Canadiens), Sweden defenseman Theo Lindstein (St. Louis Blues), U.S. forward Cutter Gauthier (Anaheim Ducks), Czechia forward Jiří Kulich (Buffalo Sabres), and Lekkerimaki. 

It was clear that these draftees did not come to play around. Here are some individual tournament highlights:

The Canucks got a glimpse of what the future holds with forward prospect Jonathan Lekkerimaki. Lekkerimaki, the tournament's most valuable player, had at least one point in every game and finished with a four game goal streak. Mike G. Morreale tells us that Patrik Allvin told, “Our scouts obviously did their homework. I'm very pleased with how they performed in the tournament. It's great to see Lekkerimaki in his third tournament taking a big step, taking shots, and being a leader of the team. … For Lekkerimaki, we're excited to see him in training camp. Once the season is over, we hope it's on to Abbotsford (in the American Hockey League) and we take it from there."

The 2024 draft eligible Hugo Havelid from Sweden didn’t fail to impress, showcasing his skills and showing scouts exactly why they should be interested in him. Havelid, who turned 20 on January 1, won four of five starts with a 1.77 GAA, .917 save percentage and two shutouts. He was voted the tournament's best goalie.

American defenseman Lane Hutson, drafted to the Montreal Canadiens, averaged 23:58 of ice time and had six assists. Hutson provides just a small glance at the immense talent on team USA in this tournament. He told NHL, “I can't really put it into words; I'm really proud of this group. For 25 days or whatever it is, everyone came to work and I'm just really happy for our guys. I think what I'll remember most is just being able to come to the rink and be myself. It felt like we've been playing together for five years -- that's how tight this group got being in those tight situations and always finding a way."

The St. Louis Blues can take pride in the fact they had three prospects participating in the gold medal game, one of these being Theo Lindstein, as well as two more in the bronze medal game. Defenseman Theo Lindstein (No. 29, 2023), who turned 19 on January 5, was a late addition to the roster and averaged 19:32 of ice time. He led all WJC defensemen with eight points (two goals, six assists) in seven games.

Formerly drafted by Philadelphia Flyers, forward Cutter Gauthier recently found himself in a stunning deal. This deal saw the Flyers trade the 19-year-old Boston College standout and recent United States World Juniors gold medal winner to the Ducks for young defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round draft pick. While this trade is controversial to many, and the Philadelphia Flyers bid farewell to their prize prospect, Gauthier has made it clear he is to be valued wherever his future may take him. Gauthier, who was named the tournament's top forward, led the U.S. with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists). No matter your opinions, it’s evident he’s truly a gem and played a major part in leading the USA to gold.

In the upset destined for the history books, Czechia forward Jiří Kulich, a draftee of the Buffalo Sabres (No. 28, 2022), played a major part in the big win. With two goals and two assists in the game, the 19-year-old captain has tallied up 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 21 WJC games (1.38 points-per game) over three years. He finished the tournament tied with Gauthier for the tournament lead with 12 points (six goals) in seven games. 

The members of this WJC Media All-Star team are just a couple of the NHL draftees that participated and excelled in this tournament. Here are some other “honorable mentions” and notable names:

Macklin Celebrini, the 17-year-old NHL Central Scouting A rated skater and projected No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, led Canada with eight points (four goals, four assists) in five games. As Canada’s youngest player, he began the tournament in a fourth line role but was ultimately promoted to the top line in the 3-2 overtime loss to Czechia in the semifinal round. He also ranked second on Canada in face-off win percentage (51.4% or 35-for-68) among players with at least 25 face-offs taken. We’re sure to be hearing more of Macklin Celebrini’s name as we approach the 2024 NHL Draft.

Celebrini was not the only A rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Players to Watch List for the 2024 NHL Draft gaining experience in the 2024 World Juniors tournament and making an impact. U.S. defenseman Zeev Buium, a freshman at the University of Denver, finished with five points (three goals) and was a tournament-best plus-11 in seven games. Norway forward Michael Brandsegg-Nygård had five points (three goals, two assists), nine shots on goal and averaged 17:22 of ice time in five games.

Finland forward Konsta Helenius finished with two points (one goal) on 13 shots and averaged 19:12 of ice time in seven games. Finland forward Emil Hemming had two assists, eight shots and averaged 8:45 in seven games. And the 16-year-old Slovakia defenseman Luka Radivojevic, the youngest player of the tournament, chipped in with two points (one goal) and averaged 15:30 of ice time. 

202-4 the History Books

It is clear that every team, player, coach, and organization came to the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship with strength, readiness, and determination. The outcomes, whether stunning or predicted, are moments that will undoubtedly be remembered.

As individuals and within their teams, these athletes excelled beyond measure. Whether already drafted or draft eligible, every single one showed their worth and justified their presence at the tournament. With the conclusion of most collegiate seasons and draft day quickly approaching, remember these names. We’re sure to hear much more about them not only this year, but also in the years ahead. 

Edited by: Hadlea Lindstrom

Social media content created by: Katherin Shin

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