Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider has some new hardware to wear around his neck.
The Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman captured the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with Team Canada Saturday in Edmonton as they cruised to a 6-2 win over Sweden in the championship contest.
“It’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match again,” Schneider said on Monday. “It was a pretty wild ride in the last two games to get the gold medal.”
It was Sweden who jumped out to an early lead as they scored twice in the opening 12 minutes and chased Saskatoon Blades netminder Nolan Maier from the game after he faced just three shots.
Canada’s offence would kick into life soon afterwards as they found the back of the net three times in nearly six minutes of play to take a lead they would never relinquish.
“I felt bad for Nolan as there was nothing he could really do on the two shots that they scored on,” Schneider said. “When (Prince George Cougars goaltender) Taylor (Gauthier) went into the game though, the energy that he brought really rubbed off on us and carried us forward.
“Even though we were down 2-0, it didn’t feel like we were out of the game Once we got some momentum and played our style of game more, we were got things back on track and took control.”
Rimouski Oceanic forward Alexis Lafreniere, who is projected to be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, had two goals and an assist to lead the way for Canada in the final.
Sasha Mutala of the Tri-City Americans scored twice and Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens had a pair of assists.
Kirby Dach of the Blades and Josh Williams of the Medicine Hat Tigers also found the back of the net, while Gauthier stopped all 16 shots he faced after taking over for Maier.
Alexander Holtz had a goal and an assist to pace Sweden’s offence in the loss.
Lucas Raymond had the other goal for the silver medalists, who received 34 saves from Hugo Alnefelt.
Schneider, who suited up in all five games of the tournament but was held off of the scoresheet, was paired up with Matthew Robertson of the Edmonton Oil Kings during the medal round.
“I think the qualities that he brings makes us a pretty good pair,” said Schneider, who played alongside Robertson during Canada’s selection camp in Calgary earlier this month.
“He’s more of a offensive defenceman that’s very mobile in that end of the ice, while I’m more of a stay at home player. I support his game the same way that he supports mine as we both let each other do our thing.”
Saturday’s triumph was the 22nd for Canada at the tournament and their second in a row.
They’ve also captured the title 10 times in the last 11 years, with their only blemish coming in 2016 when they failed to make the medal round.
Although Canada won all five of their games at the event, their road to the final wasn’t without a bit of controversy.
Down 5-4 to the United States in Friday’s semifinal, Cozens scored as the buzzer sounded to force overtime after a brief conference was done by the officials to determine if the goal would stand.
Although replays showed that the puck crossed the line after the clock struck zero, video review was not an option on the play as only one of the three rinks used for the tournament had the technology available and the teams had agreed not to use it at the event.
Williams would seal Canada’s spot in the gold medal game in the early stages of the extra frame for a 6-5 triumph.
“The whole video replay situation was kind of odd, but out on the ice it was probably the most exciting goal I’ve ever been a part of,” Schneider said. “I’m not really sure I could explain that the emotions we all went through after the puck went in.
“It was a fun game to play in against the States, as it seemed like momentum would switch after each team would make a play.”
Russia would end up taking the bronze medal Saturday in a 5-4 thriller over the Americans.
Vasili Podkolzin, a second round pick by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, had three goals and an assist in the game to finish in a tie with Lafreniere for the most points at the tournament with 11.
As the tournament fades into the rearview mirror, Schneider is now preparing to travel to Brandon later this month as he looks to build off of a 22-point rookie campaign with the Wheat Kings last season.
“I think this experience will be a huge help for me going forward,” Schneider said.
“There will be some of those players from the other countries that will be in the Western Hockey League this season, so I’ll know a few of their tendencies, but I think for me the biggest thing is just having some extra confidence after playing for my country and being a part of a major event like this.”