Sweden was 39 seconds away from going to the gold-medal game at the 2023 World Junior Championship, but a last-minute tying goal led to an overtime loss to Czechia on Wednesday. 24 hours later, another heartbreaking overtime loss saw them leave Halifax without any medal at all.
That means no medals for any Canucks prospects at this year's World Juniors, as Sweden's Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson were the last Canucks prospects left standing.
The bronze medal game between Sweden and Team USA was one of the wildest games in World Junior history. The two teams combined for 15 goals in a bonkers back-and-forth affair, including a game-tying goal for Sweden with just 22 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
The final score could not have been predicted after a relatively slow-paced first period, which featured just one goal — a 1-0 marker from Logan Cooley for Team USA.
When the US made it 2-0 early in the second period, it seemed like they had the game well in hand. But then everything went haywire.
Lekkerimäki helped get the madness started with the primary assist on Sweden's first goal to make it 2-1.
It was a great play by Lekkerimäki, as he picked up the puck in the neutral zone and cut to the inside, drawing the defenceman with him. He then cut behind the backchecking forward, then quickly swung the puck back to Filip Bystedt, who had all sorts of room to place his shot.
That was Lekkerimäki's lone point of the game. In fact, he wasn't even on the ice for another goal for or against despite the two teams scoring 15 goals. That's partly because of his limited ice time, with just 11:55 in total, but also because he played a pretty solid two-way game for Sweden, with good positioning in the defensive zone and well-timed puck pressure.
One issue for Lekkerimäki is that he wasn't able to find any space to use his shot, finishing with zero shots on goal. His offensive contributions were limited to some nice zone entries and passes.
Lekkerimäki finished the tournament with four points in seven games. While it wasn't a particularly impressive performance from the Canucks' first-rounder, it should always be kept in mind that he's only 18 and has a lot of development time ahead of him. Next year's World Juniors, when he's 19 and hopefully one of the leaders on Sweden, could be a better indicator of his potential.
After Bystedt got Sweden on the board, the two teams exploded, trading goals with remarkable ease as they seemingly forgot all of the systems coached into them prior to the tournament. By the end of the second period, the two teams had combined for nine goals and the score was all tied up at 5-5.
Things calmed down, but only a little, in the third period. Pettersson helped Sweden take their first lead of the game four minutes in, making it 6-5.
When Pettersson's point shot deflected wide, Noah Ostlund picked up the loose puck, curled in front, and sniped it in.
Pettersson wasn't shy about shooting the puck all tournament, even if not all of his shots got through. His willingness to drag the puck to the middle of the ice and fire the puck is part of a package of offensive skills that might prove to make him a more well-rounded prospect than expected.
Still, the hallmark of Pettersson's game in this tournament was in the defensive zone, where he showed excellent habits all tournament, apart from a few mental mistakes. There are a lot of positive details to Pettersson's game that make it easy to forget that he is also just 18 and eligible for one more World Juniors next year.
Pettersson's constant scanning in the defensive zone is a very positive trait, as he always seems aware of where everyone is on the ice. He keeps his head on a pivot and adjusts to scoring threats away from the puck, then uses his size and reach to take away passing lanes or staple his man to the boards.
This was a very positive tournament for Pettersson, showing a clear step up from his draft year. He's quickly becoming one of the Canucks' top prospects, particularly on defence.
Luke Hughes, the brother of the Canucks' Quinn Hughes, tied the game up for Team USA four minutes after Ostlund's 6-5 goal. Then, with just over a minute and a half remaining, the US seemed to put the game away when the puck dribbled over the line during a mad scrum around the net.
Sweden managed to tie the game 7-7 with 22 second remaining when a bouncing puck found Bystedt alone in front.
Unfortunately for Sweden, just like in the semifinals against Czechia, they couldn't find that final goal. Instead, the excellently-named Chaz Lucius finished off a hattrick to give Team USA the 8-7 win and the bronze medal.
It was a wildly-entertaining game for the fans, even if it was heartbreaking for Sweden.