The U.S. National Under-18 Team and Sweden square off in the semifinals of the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation Men's Under-18 World Championship today at 8 a.m. EDT at Lappeenranta Arena in Lappeenranta, Finland. The winner will advance to the gold-medal game tomorrow (April 27).
Team USA finished preliminary-round play with a record of 3-0-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L). After falling to Switzerland, 4-2, in its opening game (April 17), the U.S. earned three consecutive victories to claim the first seed in Group B.
Jack Dougherty (Cottage Grove, Minn.) and Kyle Connor (Shelby Township, Mich.) helped stake a 2-1 lead for the Americans heading into the third with Switzerland before surrendering three unanswered goals in the third period.
In the squad's game against the Czech Republic on April 19, Alex Nedeljkovic (Parma, Ohio) stopped all 24 shots he faced to help blank the opposition, 4-0. Team USA then held Denmark to just eight shots on net, and recorded its second straight shutout, 7-0, on April 20. Eichel paced the offense with two goals and one assist.
Eichel played the role of hero once again against host country Finland, scoring with just 1:04 remaining in the third period to give the U.S. a 4-3 victory. Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.) had one goal and one assist in the win, while Nedeljkovic stopped 17 shots.
Johnathan MacLeod (Dracut, Mass.) potted two power-play tallies and Eichel factored in on each of Team USA's first three goals as the U.S. blew past Slovakia, 6-2, in quarterfinal action to set up today's tilt with Sweden. Anders Bjork (Mequon, Wis.), Auston Matthews (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Nolan Stevens (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) also scored for the U.S.
Sweden finished preliminary-round action with a 2-1-0-1 record, finishing second behind Canada in Group A. The Swedes lost to the Canadians, 3-1, to open the tournament on April 17. It would take a 4-3 shootout victory for Sweden to earn its first win, and two points in the standings, on April 19. In that contest, Sweden held a 3-0 lead entering the third period, but surrendered three straight markers to the Russians before triumphing in game-winning shots. Back-to-back wins over Slovakia (6-2, on April 21) and Germany (9-3, on April 22) gave Sweden a showdown with rival Finland in the quarterfinals. Sweden punched its ticket to the semifinals by trouncing the host Finns, 10-0.
Sweden placed fifth in last year's U18 World Championship, falling 4-0 to the United States in the quarterfinals. Sweden boasted a 3-0-0-1 in preliminary round action at last year in Sochi, Russia, falling only to the Canadians before beginning the playoff round. Sweden scored 20 goals and gave up 13 in five games.
In other semifinal action, Canada plays the Czech Republic in Lappeenranta at 11 a.m. EDT.
This will be the 12th meeting between the two countries in the IIHF Men's Under-18 World Championship. Team USA is 8-1-0-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) all-time versus Sweden at this tournament, outscoring the Swedes, 51-24, in the series.
Team USA most recently met Sweden in last year's tournament on April 25, 2013. The quarterfinal matchup at the U18 World Championship held in Sochi, Russia saw Thatcher Demko (San Diego, Calif.) stop all 28 shots he faced for the U.S. Will Butcher (Sun Prairie, Wis.) and Tyler Motte (St. Clair, Mich.) each scored in the first period, with Michael McCarron (Macomb, Mich.) and J.T. Compher (Northbrook, Ill.) providing insurance tallies in the third.
Prior to last year's tilt, Team USA and Sweden met in each gold-medal game from 2010-12. The U.S. claimed victory in all three of those meetings.
The latest Swedish victory came in the opening game at the 2010 tournament in Belarus. Despite taking a 2-0 lead off of goals by Chase Balisy (Fullerton, Calif.) and Brandon Saad (Gibsonia, Pa.), Team USA would surrender four unanswered markers, three in the third period, to fall to Sweden 4-2.