For the first time since 2004 and just the third since 1962, the U.S. Men's National Team will return home with a medal from the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. Team USA captured the bronze medal in Stockholm Sunday with a 3-2 shootout win over Finland.
In the end, it was a pair of 19-year-olds sealing the medal for the United States in the shootout. Goaltender John Gibson stopped two of three shooters, while Montreal Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk scored twice on identical moves to help the U.S. claim bronze.
Galchenyuk's winner brought a big sigh of relief for Team USA. The Americans surrendered a 2-0 lead in the third period on a pair of goals by Phoenix Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski within a three-minute span.
Nashville Predators sophomore Craig Smith and Colorado Avalanche star Paul Stastny scored in the first period for Team USA. Stastny tied for the tournament's scoring lead with 15 points, including seven goals and eight assists. Smith had 14 points, including a tournament-high 10 assists.
While both those offensive performances are notable, it's the play of Team USA's young goaltender that stands out most. Gibson, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, made 36 saves against Finland and also made a dazzling stop on Petri Kontiola in the shootout to give the U.S. a chance. Gibson finished the tournament with a .951 save percentage, 1.56 goals-against average and one shutout in five starts.
This U.S. team lacked a lot of star power, with Stastny and Erik Johnson representing the biggest names on the roster as 2010 Olympians. With an average age of a shade under 25, it was also a relatively young outfit compared to its competition.
Most followers of the World Championship didn't expect Team USA to make it out of the quarterfinals, which has been an annual stalling point for U.S. squads. So the medal is meaningful, even if it isn't a best-on-best tournament.
The men's team winning bronze also completed a rare year for USA Hockey. There are five annual IIHF top division tournaments in men's and women's hockey. U.S. teams medaled in all of them in 2013, including gold at the World Women's Championship and World Junior Championship; silver at the Men's and Women's World Under-18 Championship and now bronze at the men's worlds. USA Hockey's sled hockey team also took silver at its World Championship, which is not sanctioned by the IIHF. No other country has accomplished that since 2008 (Canada), according to TSN play-by-play man Dave Randorf.
So that's a huge year for USA Hockey and a great indicator of where it is headed as an international hockey power.
The World Championship may be seen more by NHL fans as more trouble than it's worth, especially after the injury to Canada's Eric Staal showed the type of risks this tournament represents, but it is an important event for the international hockey community. Maybe stars shouldn't go, but this tournament allows the depth of each country to compete in a high-level event, which helps with development. As hockey grows, the parity is beginning to show, and this tournament is one of the many reasons why.
Switzerland will meet Sweden for the gold medal at the IIHF World Championship at 2:30 p.m. ET to close things out in Stockholm.