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Coquitlam's Milic backstops Canada to 2023 World Junior final

Thomas Milic was arguably the star of the semi-final match, making 43 saves on 45 shots against the United States.
Thomas Milic will play for the gold medal after the Coquitlam product backstopped Canada to a semi-final victory over the United States at the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships.

A star is born.

A cliché overly used to describe athletes that make a difference in big moments, but one could argue it's a very true statement for Thomas Milic.

The Coquitlam goaltender stood on his head in turning away 43 of 45 pucks in Canada's 6-2 semi-final victory over the United States on Wednesday (Jan. 4), punching the host's ticket to a fourth straight World Junior gold-medal game.

The Canadians will go for back-to-back titles tomorrow (Jan. 5) at 3:30 p.m. against Czechia, whom they lost 5-2 in their first game of the tournament.

Milic did not start in that game, but came in relief of Benjamin Gaudreau and the Seattle Thunderbird netminder stopped all 10 shots in his direction.

"We're all so happy right now. It's a great day to be Canadian," the 19-year-old player said in an interview with TSN post-game.

"It was incredible, definitely the coolest moment of my hockey career and maybe in my life, too. It's awesome to have that much support back home and all across Canada, too."

This was Milic's fourth win in four starts between the pipes for Canada at the Halifax/Moncton tournament, and his first-ever international appearance against the Americans.

To date, he's posted a 1.75 goals-against average (GAA) and a .934 save percentage (SV%) — third and fourth respectively among tournament tendies.

The red, white and blue struck first 79 seconds into the contest for the 1-0 lead, and added a 2-0 marker midway through the first period.

Canada got on the board not long after as Milic's B.C. teammate Connor Bedard notched his ninth goal in six games.

From there, the hosts scored three unanswered goals and Milic closed down the fort early and often to maintain the advantage, which included a terrific stop on Jimmy Snuggerud off a two-on-one.

The U.S. appeared to tie it at 6:22 of the second stanza, but the goal was overturned following a coach's challenge for goaltender interference.

Milic also made four huge saves on an American power play early in the third period that included a shot off the post.

"They [the U.S.] played great," Milic added. 

"They crashed the net and we got lucky with a couple of missed calls there with the disallowed goals, but I think they [the referees] made the right calls and, you know....we ended up on the better end of that."

Given his performance, it's very likely Milic will start in the gold-medal match tomorrow in hopes of winning a second gold with a Canadian national team after claiming the 2021 men's under-18 world championship.

He's also looking to become the second straight Tri-Cities product to represent and win a World Junior gold with Canada after Port Moody's Kent Johnson scored the overtime-winning goal in the 2022 rescheduled final.

If Canada wins on Thursday, it'll be the country's 20th men's world under-20 gold medal.

- with a file from The Canadian Press