Canada looks to extend World Junior final dominance over Sweden

Neither Canada nor Sweden had much trouble advancing to the gold medal game at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, but both teams look good enough to give each other a hard time when they meet on Friday. They were the two best teams throughout the group stage, and they have a long and lopsided history in the final game of the tournament, meeting five previous times to decide the gold medal with Canada winning every contest.

Canada and Sweden met three times in the 1990s and twice more in 2008 and 2009. All five meetings occurred during stretches where Canada was at its most dominant, winning five straight gold medals from 1993-98 and 2005-09. But in the eight years since their last gold medal showdown, Canada and Sweden have both won once, and their respective lineups suggest a much more even matchup than their head-to-head history does.

Canada is led by Ontario Hockey League scoring leader Jordan Kyrou with nine points, while Sam Steel and defenseman Cale Makar are tied with eight and Drake Batherson is tied for the tournament lead with seven goals following his hat trick in Thursday’s semi-final win over the Czech Republic. Makar is the only top-10 NHL draft pick among Canada’s top contributors, while Sweden’s roster is arguably more stocked with high-end talent. Lias Andersson, Elias Pettersson, and Alexander Nylander were all top-10 picks, and they enter the gold medal game with seven points apiece. Top 2018 draft prospect Rasmus Dahlin anchors the blue line for Sweden with six assists, and a marquee performance against Canada would help make his case to go first overall.

Canada’s Carter Hart and Sweden’s Filip Gustavsson have been two of the top three goaltenders in the tournament, with both averaging around one goal against at even-strength. Special teams could be the deciding factor due to Canada’s absurdly effective power-play unit, which is scoring on 56.5 percent of its opportunities. At first glance it would be a good idea for Sweden to stay out of the penalty box, but they scored a pair of short-handed goals that turned out to be the difference against the United States on Thursday and they possess enough speed in transition to surprise even Canada’s stout defense.