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Canucks prospect Lekkerimäki sends Sweden to gold medal game at 2024 World Juniors

Jonathan Lekkerimäki's two goals led Sweden past Czechia in the first semifinal at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki scores his second goal for Sweden in their semifinal game against Czechia at the 2024 World Juniors.

Sweden’s semifinal game against Czechia at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship was closely contested. The two teams punched and counter-punched but couldn’t create many dangerous scoring chances, with the only goals coming on shots that should have been stopped.

The game was 2-2 going into the third period and, as the two goaltenders settled in and found their rhythm, it seemed like a game that would be decided by one goal, possibly in overtime.

Then Jonathan Lekkerimäki happened.

The Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect has been one of Sweden’s best players all tournament and came through in the clutch with two goals in the third period, including the game-winner, to send Sweden through to the gold-medal game.

Lekkerimäki got off to a slow start in this game, as both teams played a tight, nervous game early on. Two weak goals on goaltenders Hugo Havelid and Michael Hrabal made it 1-1 but there were few great chances and Lekkerimäki wasn’t able to get any looks on net.

In the second period, things started to open up for Lekkerimäki, as he began creating more for himself with quick shots from the slot and daring dashes up the ice. 

Still, the tight-checking Czechs were making life difficult for Lekkerimäki, even as Havelid and Hrabal gave up another goal each to make it 2-2.

In the third period, however, Lekkerimäki went off. He added six more shots to his three in the second period for his second-straight nine-shot game of the tournament. 

First, he drew Sweden’s first and only power play of the game by getting to the slot and eating a crosscheck. Then he made that power play count with a laserbeam of a one-timer.

Lekkerimäki gets a lot of praise for his shot but it shouldn’t be so singular. He has a whole range of shots, plural, beyond his wicked wristshot. He has flawless technique on his one-timer that should make him an incredibly dangerous weapon on an NHL power play in the future.

While that goal stood up as the game-winner, Lekkerimäki wasn’t done. His linemate, Noah Ostlund, made it 4-2 on a breakaway, with his fellow Canucks prospect Tom Willander picking up a second assist for breaking up the Czech rush that led to the counterattack. Then Lekkerimäki added one more insurance goal on a feed from Ostlund when the backchecking Czechs abandoned the front of the net, leaving Lekkerimäki open in the slot.

The off-balance Lekkerimäki didn’t try to do anything fancy with the puck but just powered it past Hrabal off his back foot.

To no one’s surprise, Lekkerimäki was named Sweden’s Best Player for the game. His six goals in six games are tied for the tournament lead in goalscoring and his nine points are tied for second in tournament scoring, so it’s no surprise that he was also named one of Sweden’s top-three players as well.

At this rate, Lekkerimäki may very well end up as the MVP of the entire tournament.

Lekkerimäki, Willander, and the third Canucks prospect on Sweden, Elias Pettersson, will play for gold against the winner of the other semifinal — either Team USA or Finland — on Friday, January 5 at 10:30 a.m. PST, with the game airing on TSN.