Canada is one step away from its 20th gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.
Adam Fantilli scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and Thomas Milic was outstanding in making 43 saves as the tournament hosts fought back from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the United States 6-2 on Wednesday in Halifax, in another emotional matchup of the bitter international rivals.
Joshua Roy had two goals, including one into the empty net, and two assists for Canada, while Connor Bedard and Logan Stankoven each scored once and set up another. Brandt Clarke had the other goal, while Fantilli added an assist for a two-point night.
Czechia beat Sweden 2-1 in a thrilling overtime to also qualify for Thursday’s final.
Logan Cooley and Kenny Connors replied for the Americans, who will play the Swedes for bronze. Trey Augustine stopped 31 shots for the U.S.
Canada, which advanced to face the Americans thanks to Bedard’s incredible individual effort in a dramatic overtime victory against the Slovaks in the quarterfinals, dropped a 5-2 decision to Czechia in an embarrassing tournament opener.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) January 5, 2023
Expected to go high at the 2023 NHL draft — but also largely overshadowed at the men’s under-20 event by the breathtaking Bedard, the presumptive top pick in June and world junior scoring leader with 23 points in six games — Fantilli started the tournament on the second line, but was pushes to the fringes of the roster as the showcase progressed.
After the Canadians fought back to tie the score 2-2 early in the second, he scored his second goal of the event off a terrific feed from Zach Dean to ignite a red-clad Scotiabank Centre.
Milic made a terrific stop on Jimmy Snuggerud off a 2-on-1 to keep Canada, which won its 19th gold at the pandemic-delayed summer tournament, in the driver’s seat.
The U.S. appeared to tie it at 6:22, but Jackson Blake’s goal was overturned following a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference.
Augustine then denied Dylan Guenther in alone at the other end, but Roy scored his fourth on a backhand at 12:20.
Olen Zellweger hit the post on a Canadian power play before Milic stopped Connors on a short-handed break.
Rutger McGroarty looked to have made it 4-3 just 38 seconds into the third, but Canada once again correctly challenged for goaltender interference.
Milic made four huge saves on a U.S. power play that also included McGroarty chiming a shot off the post.
The Americans had their neighbours on the ropes as the period wore on, but Fantilli set up Clarke for his second at 9:45 for some much-needed breathing room.
Roy iced into the empty net on a U.S. power play with 3:15 remaining to send the Canadians to Thursday’s final as fans chanted “We Want Gold” at Scotiabank Centre.
Canada, which came in losers in five of its last six meetings with the U.S., including the finals of both the 2017 and 2021 tournaments, had a terrible start Wednesday.
Cooley, second in tournament scoring behind Bedard, broke the ice 1:19 into the first when he swept home a loose puck for his sixth.
The U.S. led 9-0 on the shot clock before Canada tested Augustine and came close when Luke Hughes hit the outside of Milic’s post before going up 2-0 at 10:30 when Connors banged home a rebound for his second.
Bedard, who set five national or tournament records in the quarters, responded at 11:49 after the Canadians — poor against the Slovaks in the faceoff circle and even worse early Wednesday against the Americans — won an offensive zone draw and took a nice feed from Ethan Del Mastro in front to make it 2-1.
Stankoven got the hosts back on level terms 57 seconds into the second on a scramble.
Fantilli hit the post on a power play, but wouldn’t be denied later in the period before Milic stopped a Chaz Lucius breakaway.
U.S. head coach Rand Pecknold was asked before the game what stood out about Canada’s star-studded roster that features seven first-round picks — including three NHLers — plus Bedard and Fantilli.
“Talent, talent and more talent,” Rand said. “They’ve done a great job developing players.”
Czechia will have to pay close attention to Bedard, but forward Gabriel Szturc said his team knows there’s more to the Canadians than just the dynamic forward.
“Every player on Canada is very good,” Szturc said. “You can’t say, ‘Hey, you have to play only against Connor Bedard.’”
The Michigan Wolverines of the NCAA were well-represented Wednesday with five combined players taking the ice.
Fantilli suited up for Canada, while Hughes, Rutger McGroarty, Gavin Bindley and Dylan Duke were in the U.S. lineup.
There just hasn’t been much chatter.
“I stuck to my word,” McGroarty said when asked if he’s been in contact with Fantilli throughout the tournament. “I haven’t texted him at all.”
Hughes echoed those sentiments.
Now Fantilli has world junior bragging rights.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press