GOTHENBURG, Sweden (AP) — Sweden will play for gold at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships on home soil.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki scored the winner on a third-period power play before scoring a game-winning goal as the tournament hosts beat the Czech Republic 5-2 in the first of two semifinals on Thursday.
The Vancouver Canucks prospect fired a one-timer past Czech goaltender Michael Hrabal to secure Sweden’s first man lead of the afternoon at 5:14, tying the game at 2-2.
Noah Ostlund scored his third goal of the U20 tournament in a breakaway eight minutes from time to make it 4-2, before Lekkerimaki capped it off with his sixth goal just 1:02 later, blowing up the Scandinavium Arena.
The United States and Finland played the final game for the other spot in the final on Friday.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Lekkerimaki said of the gold medal game. “Very excited.”
Axel Sandin Pellikka and Theo Lindstein each scored a goal and an assist for Sweden, while Ostlund set up Lekkerimaki’s second goal for another two-point performance. Hugo Havelid made 23 saves.
“He’s not afraid to do things on the ice,” Sandin Pellikka said of Lekkerimaki, who was selected 15th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. “Go out and play your game.
The Swedes have won the World Junior Championships just twice, with the country’s last triumph coming in 2012, having previously topped the field in 1981.
“Huge,” defenseman Tom Willander, selected 11th overall by Vancouver in June, said of his bid for gold. “Home stadium. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Sweden reached the final in front of their fans in 1993 and 2014, but settled for silver both times.
“It’s special to get the chance to bring home gold,” added Sandin Pellikka. “Great opportunity.”
Matyas Melovsky and Tomas Cibulka scored for the Czech Republic, which beat Canada 3-2 in the quarterfinals. Hrabal stopped 26 shots.
“Proud of the team,” said Czech head coach Patrik Augusta. “The boys are doing their best. They have formed a team and that is the most important thing.
“I don’t have many people.”
The Swedes, who had settled for silver 11 times, lost to the United States in the bronze medal game in Halifax last year.
Melovsky opened the scoring at 6:55 on Thursday for the Czechs, who lost the 2023 final to Canada, with his first goal briefly silencing the crowd before Lindstein scored his second at 11:52 fended off a fluttering point throw.
The Swedes escaped with a 3-2 overtime win over Switzerland to advance to the semi-finals. They took a 2-1 lead 2:35 minutes into the middle period when Sandin Pellikka’s point shot again deceived the powerful Hrabal on the defender’s glove side in the second.
“They’re always doing goalie scouting,” said Sandin Pellikka, who was selected 17th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in June. “His glove side was a little weaker. We tried to target that.”
The Czechs responded again with a power play 5:01 later when Cibulka scored his second goal on a one-timer, beating Havelid with a shot between the pads that was reminiscent of the defender’s 2-0 goal against Canada in the quarterfinals.
Hrabal and Havelid traded big stops early in the third period before Lekkerimaki sent Sweden to its first final since losing to Canada in 2018.
“He can easily score from anywhere,” said Willander. “A dangerous player.”