HLINKA: Canada 6, Sweden 2

EDMONTON, AB – Oh, the glory.

Canada defeated Sweden 6-2 in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup final, capturing their 22nd gold medal at the event since its inception in 1991.

The Red and White have now won the circuit – predominantly known as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup – in 10 of the last 11 years.

Canada captain Alexis Lafreniere recorded two goals and an assist, Sasha Mutala struck twice and goaltender Taylor Gauthier stopped all 16 shots he faced to lead Canada to victory.

“Being able to win the gold medal on home ice is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” said Alberta product Kirby Dach. “It was an awesome feeling and we have a bunch of guys in there just happy to win a gold medal.”

Like in Canada’s semifinal match, the opening period of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup final was illuminated by red lights.

Mutala was called for tripping 37 seconds into the game, granting Sweden their first power play of the night. The visitors didn’t take long to make good on the opportunity.

Just five seconds into the man-advantage, Lucas Raymond walked in from the point and wired the puck far corner on Nolan Maier to give Sweden the early 1-0 lead.

Undeterred, the Red and White tilted the ice their way following the goal, outshooting their opposition 8-1 but failing to convert. It was Sweden, however, who would double up on their lead, scoring on their third shot of the game.

Alexander Holtz zipped up the right wing and roofed the puck short side over Maier’s shoulder. Maier, who allowed two goals on three shots, was pulled following the goal, as Andre Tourigny put Gauthier between the pipes.

“He brought a lot of confidence to our team with his energy in the net,” said Tourigny of Gauthier. “He made a few key saves in the second period and I think that was a game-breaker for us.”

Down by a deuce, Canada responded with three unanswered tallies – getting markers from Mutala, Dach and Lafreniere – to take the lead.

“They scored two quick goals but we just kept working,” said Lafreniere.

First, Bowen Byram curled up the left circle and released a wrist shot that Mutala tipped past Swedish netminder Hugo Alnefelt at 12:14.

Fort Saskatchewan, AB, native Dach provided Canada with the equalizer less than two minutes later, tipping home Lafreniere’s blind shot to knot it up at 2-2.

Then, it was Lafreniere’s turn.

The Canadian captain chipped the puck past Ludvig Hedstrom for a partial breakaway then went backhand-forehand on Alnefelt, flipping the puck over the Swedish keeper’s pad to give Canada the 3-2 jump.

“I had the puck in my skates almost the whole way up the ice but Krebsy (Peyton Krebs) did a nice job to pick his guy,” said the Rimouski Oceanic forward.

Canada netted an insurance goal at 12:12 of the second, with Mutala notching his second of the night.

Dylan Holloway corralled a loose puck in front of the Sweden crease and fired it, catching a piece of the winger’s cage before crossing the goal-line, giving Canada a 4-2 lead.

Canada entered the final period in charge by a pair of goals, adding an extra two for good measure as the club cruised towards glory.

Josh Williams ripped his team-leading fifth goal of the tournament in the final stanza, one-timing Ryan Suzuki’s feed for the 5-2 lead.

Lafreniere later deposited his second of the game on the power play. His shot went wide off the end boards then was kicked into the net by Alnefelt’s skate.

Canada held the lead to hoist the new Hlinka Gretzky Cup trophy in front of 10,000 Rogers Place fans.

“It’s always nice to win in front of our fans,” said Lafreniere. “10,000 is a lot. They gave us a lot of energy and we were flying out there because of them.”

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will return to Edmonton in 2020.