Canada picture perfect
Team plays best game so far to advance to world junior gold-medal final
By Sean Fitz-Gerald, Postmedia News
January 4, 2011
Team Canada's Curtis Hamilton, a member of the Saskatoon Blades, falls to his knees as he scores Canada's first goal against the U.S. Monday
Photograph by: Getty Images, Postmedia News
CANADA 4, U.S. 1
Canada waited for a year for its shot at the United States, and when they finally got it Monday, they didn't miss, winning 4-1 and advancing to the gold medal game Wednesday at the IIHF world junior hockey championship in Buffalo.
The win at HSBC Arena helped to avenge an overtime loss to the U.S. in the gold-medal game last year in Saskatoon.
"I think we just wore them out all game," Canadian forward Marcus Foligno said. "We kind of beat them in our zone, and in their zone sometimes, too."
It is the 10th straight year in which the Canadians will play for gold and it may be one of their most unexpected appearances. The team does not have an established star, with eligible players such as Taylor Hall (Edmonton), Tyler Seguin (Boston) and Matt Duchene (Colorado) having all landed regular work in the National Hockey League.
They beat Russia 6-3 in the opening game of the preliminary round, but finished second in Group B after a loss to Sweden in the finale. Sweden lost in a shootout against Russia in the earlier semifinal game on Monday.
Canada was aggressive, but not as recklessly physical as it had been for stretches of some earlier games.
Defenders closed gaps, maintained proper spacing and made life easier for goaltender Mark Visentin.
The 18-year-old was making his second straight start, despite his sometimes shaky debut in the quarter-final round against Switzerland. Visentin had replaced Olivier Roy for that game, after Roy struggled badly in the preliminary round finale against Sweden.
And it was almost as though he was a different goaltender against the U.S., guarding his rebounds carefully and playing the angles properly. It helped that Canada conceded only 15 shots through the first two periods, while dominating the U.S. on the forecheck.
"It's a great feeling," Visentin said.
Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades gave the Canadians a rare lead two minutes into the first period, giving a rabidly partisan crowd license to roar. It roared again after Brett Connolly froze one U.S. defender on a rush down the right wing, waiting until the last possible moment to fire a picture-perfect cross-ice feed to Quinton Howden, who deflected it past an over-worked Jack Campbell in the American net.
The U.S. compounded its own trouble with a pair of penalties in the second. A high-stick and a hooking penalty gave Canada a two-man advantage for 96 seconds, and it needed only a minute to build a 3-0 lead. Captain Ryan Ellis fired from the point and Ryan Johansen buried the rebound.
The U.S. had taken only seven penalties in its four preliminary round games, entering the semifinal as the most disciplined team in the tournament.
Something about the way Canada played seemed to change that, shaking the popular pre-tournament favourites from their normal game. The U.S. set up camp in Buffalo as the defending champions, having upset the Canadians last year.
"We knew it was coming, it's our fault for not being ready for it," U.S. captain John Ramage said. "When you win the gold medal, I think you know every team's coming for you -- it's just something we have to rebound from."
Only four players from last year's team returned to the Canadian lineup. And Brayden Schenn of Saskatoon, Jared Cowan of Allan, Ellis, Calvin de Haan made their goals clear to their teammates before they ever set foot in Buffalo.
"We want to get that gold medal back really bad, and we played like it tonight," said forward Zack Kassian, Canada's other goal scorer Monday.
"We played hard, we played physical, but we played smart. We're one step closer now, and now we have to focus in on Russia."
WORLD JUNIOR HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Gold Medal Game
Canada vs. Russia
Wednesday 6:30 p.m.
Bronze Medal Game
USA vs. Sweden
Wednesday 2:30 p.m.
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