2023 U18 World Hockey Championships

What we learned at the men's 2023 U18 World Hockey Championship

BASEL & PORRENTRUY, Switzerland – There's just something about this tournament. It doesn't yet have the fanfare of the World Juniors, but there's no denying its charm.

For now, you have to think of the U18s as the up-and-coming band on the verge of hitting the big playing your city's best mid-range club; like seeing The Black Keys play a venue in the mould of the Commodore in Vancouver or El Corazon in Seattle before they went from boring to actively making straight-to-pickup-truck-commerical music.

Sure, you have to suffer a couple of less-than-stellar opening acts, but even their forgettable play on the ice is often made entertaining by the diehards that cheer them on like it's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, no matter the score or the stakes.

In a word, it's intimate. You're rarely more than a stone's throw – or a beer's throw, if you're the well-lubricated Slovak fan upset with Canada's tying goal in the bronze medal game – from the action.

The barriers between media, executives, and even the teams are only set by your willingness to break the ice with a friendly ‘hello.’

This was for the real hockey head. Not just the scouts. Not just the draft sickos. For the diehards and the up-and-coming hockey players of tomorrow that often have to settle into the peripheries of the sport.

This is their moment, and they were just kind enough to share it with the rest of us.

For their part, the participating countries ensured that everyone was entertained from puck drop to the final horn.

You had the Americans and Swedes establishing their mark early, distinguishing themselves from their respective groups with lopsided wins one after the other in round-robin play. Everyone knew the score – the gold medal game was theirs, and we just had to wait and see if anyone could shake them from it.

Canada, Slovakia, Finland, and Czechia formed the middle class in this year's tournament, and no suspense here on how much upward mobility they enjoyed in this tournament – I'll give you a hint, about as much as has been accessible in the first country for the better part of three or four decades. They combined for zero wins and a minus-30 goal differential.

In this tournament of haves and have-nots, the latter group was formed by the host Swiss, Latvia, Norway, and Germany. Each fought valiantly, but their inability to capitalize on their chances, coupled with the lethal finishing power of their opponents, made the results look lopsided in nearly every one of their matches.

As the talent pool compressed in the playoffs, things really took off. The dynamics were the same, but the competition more fierce and the crowds more invested. The Swiss and Slovak cheering sections especially.

The tournament's best game was, funny enough, the bronze medal match. You're often stuck with dejected teams playing out the string, but not this time. Canada and Slovakia played as tightly contested and compelling a contest as this year's U18s had to offer.

Lead changes. Momentum swings. The raucous Slovak crowd draining the arena's kegs (said with affection), belting out song after song, banging drums, acting as a force multiplier for their countrymen on the ice – it simply ruled.

It wasn't the result that the ostensible home crowd wanted, but it can't be said that the better, more talented of the two teams didn't eventually eke out the win in overtime, Macklin Celebrini working magic with his hands as he so often had in this tournament to sneak the puck home and secure the hardware.

Talk about a tough act to follow.

The Americans and Swedes did their best though and put on one hell of a game in front of the tournament's more numerous crowd. It wasn't quite the track meet of the game that preceded it, but it was a lot of fun in its own right.

You had the Swedes jumping out to a 2-0 lead, their depth scorers putting the Americans on the wrong side of the score for the first time this entire tournament, shutting down their super-charged first line in the process.

Eventually, though, the Americans broke through that Swedish defence and their star goaltender Noah Erliden. First, a Danny Nelson deflection. Next, Cole Eiserman bounced a puck off of Carey Terrance and in. Lucky goals, sure, but that's what happens when you control the territorial battle as thoroughly as the Americans did in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

This set the stage for overtime. And only 2:20 into that fateful frame, Ryan Leonard sent a wrist shot that bounced against Erliden's glove before just barely squeaking across the line.

So ended the men's 2023 U18 World Hockey Championship. And now that the dust has settled, we're left to glean the lessons learned from these special 10 days of hockey in Switzerland. {

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This article is about:
2023 U18 World Hockey Championships Canada U18 Czechia U18 Finland U18 Germany U18 Latvia U18 Norway U18 Slovakia U18 Sweden U18 Switzerland U18 USA U18 WJC-18 Zeev Buium Macklin Celebrini Dalibor Dvorský Cole Eiserman James Hagens Cole Hutson Ryan Leonard Axel Sandin Pellikka Will Smith
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