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The hosts and defending world junior champions, the United States, enter their semifinal matchup against Sweden on an impressive run of performances. Since a 3-2 loss to Slovakia early in the tournament, the Red, White and Blue have reeled off three wins in a row, beating powerhouses Canada, Finland and Russia in the process. New York Islanders prospect Kieffer Bellows scored twice in the 4-2 quarterfinal win over Russia to run his tournament goal total to six, while 2017 No. 8 pick Casey Mittelstadt leads the tournament with 10 points. With those two leading the way, the Americans look like the favorites on their home ice.
Fresh off a thrilling quarterfinals victory over Russia, the United States will take on Sweden Thursday afternoon in Buffalo at 4 p.m. ET with a spot in the World Junior Championship gold medal game on the line. The Americans are looking to repeat as tournament champions for the first time ever, and they’ll need two more wins to do so.
The United States finished just behind Canada in Group A and will have a tougher road to the gold medal game if they hope to repeat as champions at the annual U-20 tournament. That road begins with a quarterfinal matchup against Russia on Tuesday night.
Well, for one, Team USA’s chance to repeat as champions for the first time in tournament history. We’re in the single-elimination stage of the tourney now, so the stakes are extremely high. The winner of USA-Russia will move on to face the winner of Sweden-Slovakia in the semifinals. Emotions typically run pretty high in these games, and Russia will be looking to avenge their semifinal loss to the Americans in last year’s tournament.
The Americans put the pressure on in the final few moments of the second period, but Gustavsson has looked strong after a flurry of chances. Being behind going into the final frame is familiar territory for the United States, but they’ll need to bury their chances. After two periods, Team USA is outshooting Sweden 19-13, but that crucial American power play opportunity was erased by a ill-timed penalty. The chances are there for Team USA, they’ll just have to capitalize.