Sports, Top Story, Hockey, Men's Hockey

Brennan: Breaking Down the Eagles’ Performances at the 2024 IIHF World Juniors Tournament

On Friday afternoon, Team USA knocked off Sweden 6–2 in the gold medal game of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship. Boston College men’s hockey sent seven players to Team USA this year, the most of any NCAA or junior team.

Here is how each player fared in the tournament:

Cutter Gauthier: 

(Owen Bienen / Heights Editor)

Gauthier played on the team’s top line and was selected as the best forward in the tournament. This was to be expected, as Gauthier was considered to be one of the team’s premier goalscorers. Although he racked up 12 points in the tournament—tied for the most by any player in the tournament—only two of those came by lighting the lamp.

While some might see his two goals as a failure for a scorer of Gauthier’s caliber, not relying on his shot for point production is a positive sign for his development as a complete center and points to him staying at the position with his transition to the NHL looming.

Nevertheless, Gauthier’s world-class shot came through when it mattered most. 

The Americans were all knotted up at two with five minutes left in their semifinal game against Finland when a hooking penalty was called on Finland’s Kasper Kulonummi. Everyone, including the Fins, knows that Gauthier is always a threat on the power play, but it didn’t matter. Gauthier picked up the puck “in his office” on a pass from Lane Hutson, and he buried the eventual game-winner with 3:13 left to play.

Will Smith:

(Paul Criado / Heights Staff)

Gauthier’s goal may have been the most important one of the tournament for the United States, but the runner-up may have come from Will Smith when he tied up the same game at two in the second period.

The goal was a signature Smith score, showcasing his elite hockey sense to sneak around the back of the net and get open at the back door. Gabe Perreault, his longtime linemate, hit him with a sharp pass, and Smith handled it perfectly, placing the puck in the back of the net before goalie Niklas Kokko knew what hit him.

Centering the same line he does at BC and also playing on the power play, Smith scored four goals and tallied five assists while driving the play whenever took the ice.

Gabe Perreault:

(Paul Criado / Heights Staff)

Perreault led the “BC line” in points with 10, and he also enjoyed his share of big moments at the tournament. 

One of his big goals didn’t count for his overall tally because it came in a shootout, but it was very important for his team. The Americans failed to score on their first four attempts in the shootout against Czechia, but Jiří Kulich netted one on the Czechs’ third attempt, putting all the pressure on Perreault as the US’ fifth shot taker. Perreault came through, bouncing the puck off Michael Hrabal’s left pad and in, extending his team’s life in the shootout. Isaac Howard eventually won the shootout to protect the United States’ undefeated record.

Perreault’s chemistry with Smith led to the big goal against Finland in the semifinal, but it also netted him a goal to put the Americans up 1–0 against Sweden in the gold medal game. Smith held the puck in a shooting position on a delayed penalty, but instead of putting it in himself, he unselfishly found Perreault, who buried it.

Perreault’s best game was a three-point outing in his team’s 7–2 rout of Latvia in the quarterfinal, in which he was selected as his team’s player of the game.

Ryan Leonard:

(Owen Bienen / Heights Editor)

Leonard was his usual self at World Juniors, using his physical play style to affect his opponents’ games and get in their heads. As usual, he did the dirty work for his line, retrieving pucks and battling in the corners, contributing to a six-point tournament performance and a +2 rating.

Leonard will be remembered most for sealing the deal against Sweden, scoring the United States’ fifth goal with 3:48 left in the game. Leonard’s highlight-reel score effectively crushed any hopes of a Swedish comeback and clinched the gold medal for his country.

American fans and Swedish players will remember that this was not his first game-ending goal against Sweden in a gold medal game. Clutch goals in international tournaments are in Leonard’s DNA, as he also scored in overtime to win gold last summer in the U18 championships.

Drew Fortescue:

(Sarah Fleming / Heights Editor)

Fortescue may go down as an unsung hero for the Americans. He only scored once—in the opener against Latvia—but his contributions in all three zones were crucial for Team USA’s success in the tournament.

Especially early on, the American blueliners were pretty shaky, turning the puck over and missing plays in their own zone that led to chances for their opponents. Throughout this stretch, however, Fortescue might just have been the most solid and consistent defenseman for the United States. Fortescue made countless high-effort plays defending in his own zone, helping his team allow the third-least goals against average in the tournament.

His most memorable play was his long pass up the boards to Howard from behind his own goal line in the championship game against Sweden. Howard’s goal made the game 2–1, putting the Americans back in front with a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.

Jacob Fowler:

(Owen Bienen / Heights Editor)

Trey Augustine minded the net for the Americans at last year’s tournament as a 17-year-old, so he was the presumed favorite to be the number one this year, and this held true. Augustine, however, got sick in Sweden, so Fowler got his chance in net for three of the United States’ seven games, and he held strong in Augustine’s absence.

He won all three games and maintained a 2.59 goals against average with a .889 save percentage. He played against Switzerland and Czechia in the preliminary round and against Latvia in the quarterfinal.

While giving up only two goals in the quarterfinal was a big achievement, he was most important to his team’s success against Czechia. He held strong to keep the game tied late in the third period and played his best hockey of the tournament in the shootout. 

Fowler faced seven Czech shots in the shootout, and only Kulich—who tied for second in the tournament with six goals—beat him. If not for Fowler, the United States would not have kept its undefeated record at the tournament.

Aram Minnetian:

(Owen Bienen / Heights Editor)

As an injury replacement, Minnetian did not see any ice time in the tournament because the American blue line was relatively healthy. He still adds a gold medal to his resume as one of the better young defensemen in the American system.

January 6, 2024