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GOLD STRIKE – Team Canada celebrates their championship after winning the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championships final between the United States and Canada in Espoo, Finland, Sunday. Photo by JUSSI NUKARI/LEHTIKUVA VIA AP

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SEALS THE DEAL – Gavin McKenna of Canada celebrates his 6-4 empty net goal and hat trick during the 2024 IIHF ice hockey U18 World Championships final between the United States and Canada in Espoo, Finland, Sunday. Photo by JUSSI NUKARI/LEHTIKUVA VIA AP

Gavin McKenna strikes ‘Klondike Gold’ at U18 World Champs

Canada, led by Whitehorse native Gavin McKenna’s hat trick, claimed gold at the U18 World Championships in Finland Sunday.

By Morris Prokop on May 6, 2024

Canada, led by Whitehorse native Gavin McKenna’s hat trick, claimed gold at the U18 World Championships in Finland Sunday.

Canada came back from a 3-1 deficit to capture gold with a 6-4 victory over the United States in Espoo.

Tij Iginla (son of Hockey Hall of Famer Jerome) buried the game-winning goal at 14:19 of the third, capping off a scoring stretch of three power play goals during a five-minute checking to the head major penalty against the United States.

Canada was trailing 3-2 midway through the third period when McKenna started the comeback with his second goal of the game, tying it at 3-3. McKenna fired home a one-timer on a pass from Iginla.

Just over three minutes later, Cole Beaudoin found the back on the net for Canada’s first lead of the game.

McKenna sealed the win for good, scoring an empty-netter to complete the hat trick and notch his 10th goal, which also set a new Canadian tournament goals record. He also finished with 20 points, the most by a Canadian at a single U18 men’s worlds.

McKenna shot the puck in from inside his own zone and hit the centre of the empty net.

“Obviously you can’t do it by yourself. I had an unbelievable line and a great team,” McKenna said after the game. “I couldn’t have done it without them, there were so many guys that stepped up when we needed it and it all paid off in the end.

“There was never a doubt in our room. We have built unbelievable friendships that we’ll have for a lifetime. The U.S played really well, but with the penalty — the power play is something we practiced all tournament, it came up big today and that was the key to our win.”

The U.S. took an early lead with a goal scored in the final minute of the first period before Ryder Ritchie tied the game with his fourth of the tournament in the middle frame. Canada would trail by two before McKenna found the top corner with a backhander that beat American goaltender Nick Kempf, cutting the lead to 3-2.

The power play goal at 15:40 of the second period gave Canada hope.

He described the goal to TSN during the second intermission.

“I kind of saw a lane to the net. I think there was three guys there and I saw the d-man walking over a little bit on (Porter) Martone and just thought I’d put it far-side cause the goalie was kind of cheating short-side. It was a big one for sure.”

The U.S. outshot Canada 31-11 in the first two periods.

Carter George was a difference- maker again, making one outstanding save after another, including a goal line save on American James Hagen in the final minutes of the second period after McKenna’s first goal. George was named the best goaltender of the tournament following his 31 saves in the gold medal game.

“I have no words for him, Georgie is unbelievable,” McKenna said.

“He kept us in it this whole game, honestly. There were times in this tournament where we might not have won, he’s an unbelievable person and player, and the sky is the limit for him.”

McKenna finished the game with the hat trick and one assist, seven shots and an even plus-minus in 19:47 of ice time.

Following the game, George, McKenna and Martone were named to the media all-star team.

Despite their heroics, neither George or McKenna won the tournament MVP. That went to Hagens of the U.S, who set a tournament record with 22 points, beating Nikita Kucherov’s record.

Canada was undefeated throughout the tournament, beating Sweden, Czechia, Switzerland and Kazakhstan, while outscoring their opponents 31-7 in the preliminary round. It booked its spot in Sundasy’s gold medal game with a 4-0 shutout of Latvia in the quarterfinals and a 5-4 win in the semifinal over Sweden.

Against the Swedes, McKenna scored the second goal of the game for Canada on a beautiful effort to make it 2-0 7:07 into the game, breaking the tournament record for points by a Canadian player with his 16th point.

McKenna received a pass outside the Swedish blue line, then cut in front of the Swedish net, made a move, and roofed the puck past the Swedish goalie, Love Harenstam.

During the first intermission, McKenna told TSN in an interview that setting the record with this group of teammates was, “unreal. It’s a short tournament but we bonded super-early … we just get closer with every single game.”

When asked what makes the group of players special, McKenna replied, “Just the brotherhood we have in that room. Every single guy’s doing it for the guy beside him … it’s the tightest group in my opinion that’ll win this, so I think we have a really good chance.”

Sweden gave Canada a scare in the third period, but Canada hung on for the victory.

McKenna’s stat line for the game was one goal, three shots and +1 in 14:45 of ice time.

After the game, McKenna was named one of the three best players of the tournament for Team Canada, along with McKenna’s line-mate Martone and George.

TSN analyst Craig Button coined a new nickname for McKenna by the end of the championship game, calling him “Klondike Gold”. TSN play-by-play commentator Bryan Mudryk was also calling McKenna the “Wizard from Whitehorse”.

– With files from Hockey Canada

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