The United States' dream of winning a World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal on home ice is over, but Team USA still has a chance to do some things it has never done in this IIHF event.
The Americans have never won medals back-to-back years in the tournament. They've never earned the honor of standing on their own blue line after a game and receiving a medal of any color in their four previous turns as the tournament's host.
The United States can still make some American hockey history today with a win over Sweden at HSBC Arena (3:30 p.m., NHL Network).
Yes, playing for the bronze instead of the gold is disappointing, especially after last year's stunning gold-medal triumph in Saskatoon. That win, along with the fact the U.S. had eight returnees from that squad, made the Americans the team to beat in this tournament. They proudly wore the target until a Team Canada crew out for revenge ended their championship reign Monday night.
The U.S. is determined to go out as winners today in its last game together.
"I would love to see the guys that medaled last year be the first group to win multiple medals," U.S. coach Keith Allain said. "Our guys are excited to play and we want to go out there and beat Sweden and win a bronze medal."
This is the eighth time in nine years the United States will play for the bronze. The U.S. has medaled only six times in the previous 34 editions of this event but has earned three of them since 2004 (two golds and a bronze).
"I imagine being able to medal in consecutive years would say a lot about the stability of our program and about the quality of the players we're producing," Allain said.
The U.S. will face a Swedish team that had its gold-medal drought extended to 30 years by Russia, 4-3, in a shootout. Both the Americans and the Swedes earned byes in the medal-round semifinals by winning their respective groups during pool play. The extra game off didn't benefit either team as the Swedes came out tentative and sluggish against Russia. The U.S. failed to match Canada's intensity in the early going and quickly got overwhelmed by last year's silver medalist.
Team USA and Sweden were disappointed they didn't come out and play up to their potential in their semifinal games. Both vow it will be different today.
"It's a pretty prestigious tournament and to be part of it is an honor and to represent Team USA is an honor that everyone here doesn't take for granted," returning forward Kyle Palmieri said. "We're going to go out there, play our best and hopefully play our best game of the tournament."
"Of course we want to play the final game but we can't [change] anything in the past," Sweden captain Anton Lander said. "We have to look forward and make the best of the situation. I think it's going to be a good game."
If the U.S. is to medal, it must find a way to generate offense. Save for a six-goal, 56-shot effort in a stomping of Slovakia last week, the U.S. has struggled to finish despite the fact that 12 players have recorded goals in the team's five games. The problem is that of the 12, only three have more than one goal, with Palmieri, Chris Brown and Chris Kreider sharing the team lead with two. The U.S. has scored just three times in its last two games.
"I think we have to show a greater commitment to get into the dirty areas of the ice in front of their net and get some rebound chances and tip chances and do a better job of making it hard for the opposing goaltender to see the puck," said Allain of how to cure the offensive woes.
Shooting would work too, something the United States didn't do often enough against Canada's Mark Visentin, who gave up soft goals in his previous two starts before Monday.
Sweden's Robin Lehner, the Ottawa Senators prospect, has given up a softy in each of his last two starts. He got away with it in the shootout win over Canada last Friday. It wound up being costly in the loss to Russia.
"We're going to have to play to our strengths and that's using our speed and getting on top of them early," Palmieri said. "Hopefully, we can get a lot of traffic in front of their goaltender. He's a pretty a good goaltender. As long as we play our game for a full 60 minutes, we'll be OK."