Following a long battle for the gold, Team Canada came out on top 4-1 to defeat Team Sweden in yesterday’s gold medal playoff match in the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup Championship.
Sweden came in second, earning silver, with Finland coming in third earning bronze with a 3-1 win over Czechia. NHL scouts were heavily present at the championship, with GMs and scouts filling the seats at Peavey Mart Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta. The junior championships like the IIHF World Juniors and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (HGC) are key places where future NHL stars begin to rise and show their talent and quality.
Notably from the gold medal game, the performances from both Canadian and Swedish goalies, Scott Ratzlaff from the Seattle Thunderbirds and Noah Erliden from HV71 respectively gave up fantastic performances in the net and it would be shocking not to see them in the NHL in the coming years. Ratzlaff stopping all 17 shots he faced over the final two periods of the game, finished the tournament with a 4-0-0 record, 0.50 goals-against average and .976 save percentage.
The Canadian team, which featured 12 WHL players on its roster, outscored its opponents 34-3 throughout the tournament, winning gold for the first time in four years. Canada scored first just shy of the six-minute mark in the first period, when forward Tanner Howe found room at the side of the Swedish net, lifting a puck into the goal from a very sharp angle on the goal line.
After a Swedish equalizing point with 8:03 to play in the first, the Canadians extended their lead before the period was through on a power play goal from Ethan Gauthier. Canadian forward Riley Heidt earned the primary assist as Canada took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Heidt earned another assist in period two, setting up Calum Ritchie’s goal at 5:54 as the puck took an impressive bounce off the end boards, allowing Ritchie to deposit it into the Swedish net.
East Division rivals Brayden Yager (Moose Jaw Warriors) and Zachary Benson (Winnipeg ICE) worked together on the single goal of period three. Benson grabbed a puck behind the Sweden net, firing it out front to Yager who knocked home his fifth goal of the tournament with 4:04 to play. Yager finished with five goals, the most among WHL skaters and one shy of the tournament lead.
Saturday’s win marked Canada’s 23rd gold medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup since the tournament was inaugurated in 1991.
The 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup will be co-hosted by Czechia and Slovakia.