The US U18 team won the gold medal at the IIHF World U18 Championships with a 3-1 defeat over Sweden. This is the second straight gold medal for the US in that event.
I hate to say it, but this one seems a little less special than some of the previous U18 golds. Part of it was that it was difficult to watch the tournament. With Canada failing in the preliminary round and TSN cutting all their coverage of the tournament, and since I'm neither a resident of Sweden, a technological wizard, nor willing to pay money to watch an online feed, I wasn't able to watch as closely as I wanted. Plus, with the tournament being held overseas, not as many people care about it over here, so less excitement builds.
The other reason this one was a little less interesting--and I realize that this is incredibly arrogant--is that winning this gold just seemed so darn easy. After losing their opening game to Sweden, the US cruised through every other game of the tournament(5-1, 5-0, 7-1, 6-0, 5-0, 3-1). The World Juniors last year, or last year's U18 gold had wins in amazing, very close hockey games. The closest to drama this year's tournament came was when Sweden cut a 3-0 lead to 3-1 in the third period of the championship. It was an incredibly dominant performance.
That is kind of a refreshing change though. Even when the US has had international success in the past, it has come as a huge underdog. Neither of this year's World Junior championship team nor Olympic silver-medaling team were projected to win medals before the tournament. I talked before the tournament about how the US was coming into this tournament as a favorite and it would be interesting to see how they handled it. I'd say they handled it pretty well.
I've talked in the past about how the NTDP, which still faces some criticism, deserves a lot of credit for USA Hockey's recent international success, and this is yet another strong piece of evidence to support that point. This tournament will always feature the asterisk of the world's hockey power, Canada, only sending some of their best players, but this is still an impressive feat even when you take Canada out of the equation. Prior to the creation of the NTDP, the problem wasn't that the US was behind Canada in the world hockey hierarchy. The problem was that they were behind Canada, Russia, the Czechs, the Slovaks, Sweden, and Finland in the world hockey hierarchy. Fourteen years after the creation of the NTDP, all those European countries are shrugging their shoulders and saying that they can't compete with a program like that. Canada used to brag that they could send two or three teams to a world championship and win gold with any of them. Now we just get a bunch of excuses when they can only send about a handful of their top players. The US has gone from an also-ran to solid number 2 in the hockey world in a very short amount of time, and it's difficult to argue that the NTDP hasn't played a big part of that.