Team USA wins gold, but would Lafrenière have made the difference?

Team USA continued its domination of Canada in the WJC Gold Medal game featuring two New York Rangers prospects

Team USA shut out Team Canada 2-0 in a thrilling Gold Medal Game at the WJC Tournament. It was a battle of New York Rangers prospects as Braden Schneider of Canada faced off against Brett Berard of the United States.   It was close, but Berard took home the gold.

With Canada’s failure at the tournament, it’s inevitable that there will be some Canadians who will say that the Rangers should have allowed Alexis Lafrenière to play.  Would it have made a difference? Of course it’s possible, but we will never know.

There were several big reasons why it didn’t happen.  The first was the Blueshirts wanted their prized rookie to be at training camp from the beginning.  With the accelerated schedule and only ten days to train, it was important for him to be there.

Second, playing at the tournament would have been an injury risk. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks who allowed Kirby Dach to play and he suffered a broken wrist in the first game and is out for months.

Finally, it is very possible that Lafrenière didn’t want to play and the Rangers are taking the heat for him not going.  He won gold last year and was the MVP.  His next hill to climb is the NHL and that has to be his focus so he might have preferred to not play.

So, let’s put any discussion about Lafrenière to bed.  The Canadians played well, but in the big game they got beat.  Enough.

The game

Canada had not trailed even once this entire tournament and had not been challenged much if at all.  Team USA had lost its first game to Russia and faced adversity in a quarterfinal game against Slovakia.  They blew a two goal lead against Finland and won on a goal in the game’s waning minute.  Team USA was better prepared to play this game and it showed with Canada not really turning it on until the third period when it was too late.

The first USA goals was scored by Alex Turcotte 13:25 into the first period.

Getting that first goal was huge for Team USA and gave them an advantage heading into the second period. Just 32 seconds into the second period, Trevor Zegras tucked the puck behind Devon Levi for a two goal lead and they never looked back.

Devon Levi had allowed only three goals in six previous games so scoring twice on him was a shocker.  Meanwhile, USA goalie Spencer Knight had been pulled in the opener against Russia, but he was simply outstanding in this game.

Team Canada raised their level of play in the third period and outshot the U.S.A. 15-1, but Knight was unbeatable and made the lead hold up. It was a nailbiter, but Canada just didn’t have enough time and it was bedlam for Team USA when time expired.

Neither Ranger prospect made it onto the scoresheet, but both Schneider and Berard played as they have all tournament.  Berard was on the high energy third line with John Farinacci and Bobby Brink and that line had several prime opportunities.  Schneider was on the second defense pairing for Canada and had some shots that could have found their way into the net.

Schneider played 23 shifts for 17:54 minutes of ice time. He had three shots on goal, third most on the team.  Berard played 11:59 in 19 shifts and finished with one shot on goal.  The question now is if Schneider will be brought to the Rangers training camp as the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL will not be playing for weeks.   Berard will be returning to Providence College to resume his NCAA career.

In the bronze medal game, Finland beat Russia  4-1 (two empty net goals). This was the fifth meeting between Canada and the USA for the gold and Team USA won for the fourth straight time.  Canada won the first time the two teams met in 1997, but ever since then, it’s been all USA.

Overall, this was the fifth time the USA has taken the gold and the first time since 2017.  Canada has won the top prize 18 times.

The WJC provided some thrilling hockey and was a great precursor to the start of the NHL season in just over a week.  It was a great effort by all  players involved and the Rangers should be very pleased with the play of their two future Blueshirts.